Warning: I tend to be overly friendly. Part genetics and part upbringing, I learned the true meaning of random acts of kindness from my dad. Don’t ever go shopping with me if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. Always expect that moment in the store when I stop to chat with complete and total strangers. And, (G-d forbid) I should run into someone I know, don’t expect to be home on time for dinner.
The majority of the people I tend to strike up a conversation with seem to be senior citizens. I think it comes from the last few years I spent with mom and dad, taking them on their weekly grocery shopping trips once dad was completely incapable of driving. Dad always socialized at the store. For many senior citizens, it might be the only time in their day, week or even the month, where they get to be out and about among other fellow humans. Some only want a hello. Others may need a little more than that. I don’t mind either way – I’ve got time to listen.
So, shopping at the local Wegman’s a couple of weeks ago, I was perusing the bulk aisle in search of macadamia nuts for the monthly brownie recipe the Food Network magazine had convinced me to make for the month of January – Snowy Day Coconut Brownies. As I weighed my macadamia nuts, an apparently unconscious sigh broke the silence.
Joe: You’re way too young to be making that sound!
Me: You’d be surprised…
Joe looked like a man who should be the one sighing, but he was smiling instead. Then Joe asked me a question that I absolutely hate being asked, let alone answer…
Joe: How old do you think I am?
Ugh…either way, you’re wrong. If you say they’re way younger than they are just to be polite, you’re insulting their intelligence. If you guess way over, you’re just plain ignorant (or under the age of 30). So, swallowing an insult to injury along with my ignorance, I guessed Joe was about 75 and, of course, I was wrong. Joe is 90-years-old. Honestly, he didn’t look a day over 80 and actually did look like he could be in his 70s. Joe proceeded to listen to my sighing justification as a result of many personal tribulations over a short period of time, I, in turn, hearing about the deaths of everyone in his life as a result of living as long as he has.
Somehow, we steered ourselves onto a conversation about smoking. I told Joe how I had quit smoking over 25 years ago and subsequently developed a rare neurological condition. Joe then told me how he had only quit 10 years ago at the age of 80 and only because he was having open heart surgery. According to Joe, his doctor warned him of the need to stop smoking two weeks prior to surgery in order to be anesthetized properly without ramifications. Joe claimed he quit “just like that” without any kind of physical or mental support. And after the surgery he figured he hadn’t smoked for at least a month so why go back…and that was that. I praised Joe for this incredible feat, and blessed him for making it this far in life still looking like he was 75…
Asking Joe about his heart condition now, he said he never felt better, despite feeling all of his 90 years at this point regardless of how he looked. He told me how the doctor had to replace one of his heart valves with a cow’s heart valve because of severe aortic stenosis, something I had never heard of before.
Joe: Yeah, now whenever I go to the doctor for an examination, he takes out his tongue depressor and tells me to open up and say, “Moo!”
“Put them out, out to pasture, beneath the olive trees.
That line the hillsides of a distant gracefulness.
So they might feed and flourish in abundance.
And you and I may live.”
Cows of Gladness – Seals and Croft