by Larry Dawalt, M. Div, CT, CTSS
Those of you who remember being a car passenger or sitting in a waiting room before the days of smartphones and tablets may remember playing a game called ‘I Spy.’ The ‘spy’ would select something as the object and say ‘I spy with my little eye something that begins with the letter _,’ and at that point the guessing would begin. Sometimes it had to be fast, especially if the driver was making good time, but when sitting together- especially on a porch- the game could go on for a while, depending on the quality of the clues given to enhance the guessing. For youngsters, the game was about competition, but writer Mary Tomczyk likes the game because it helps children “learn to be more observant about the world around them.”
Learning to be more observant about the world around us has value for those at any age, especially when it comes to how we view seniors. What do we see? Do we see just what is in front of us, or can we go beyond and see others chapters that came before this one that are just as much a part of the story of that person’s life. I like what Nawal El Saadawi said about his aging face; “Whenever I go to New York or any European country, they say: ‘Nawal, why don’t you get a facelift?’ I tell them, ‘I am proud of my wrinkles. Every wrinkle on my face tells the story of my life. Why should I hide my age?”
So, just for fun, let’s play a game I’ll call ‘Senior I Spy.’ For some, we’ll go back in time, but others may be people you could bump into today or tomorrow.
I spy with my little eye a man with white hair and glasses sitting on a porch in Indiana. He is holding a sheet of paper rolled up like a scroll and his eyes sparkle as he talks to young men who come by to see him, each of which seems to be taller than the visitor before. Who is that senior? It’s John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach who led UCLA to ten national titles in 12 years.
I spy with my little eye a woman sitting at a coffee shop in Winston-Salem. She is reading a book, but seems to pause every few minutes and look out into the world like she is reflecting on the words and putting them into her heart. Who is that senior? It’s Maya Angelou, poet, civil rights activist, dancer, film producer, television producer, playwright, film director, author, actress, and beloved professor.
I spy with my little eye the oldest man on a building project in a small Georgia town, with a hammer hanging off his work pants and sweat pouring off his brow as he pounds nail after nail into the frame of a little house that will soon be home to a family of four. Who is that senior? It’s James Earl Carter, a man who some people call Jimmy, but others refer to as ‘Mr. President.’
I spy with my little eye a female hospice patient with barely enough strength to answer the door. Yet when she sits at the piano and sings, there are big remnants left of the opera singer that used to wow audiences both at home and abroad.
I spy with my little eye a tall man reaching up to a top shelf at the grocery store for a couple of cans of soup. His hair is white and he walks slowly, carrying one leg that doesn’t move like it used to and cradling a back that could be subject to ‘going out’ at any minute. Who is that senior? It’s Paul Silas, former coach of the Charlotte Bobcats and one of the best rebounders in the history of the game.
So now it’s your turn. Look around. What do you see? You can play at a place of worship, a retirement community, a mall, or even in your neighborhood. You probably see someone you don’t know, but maybe it’s someone you do know; maybe even a family member. The heart of the matter is that there is a lot more to seniors than meets the eye. Regardless of who or what you think you see, you are looking at someone with value who has lots of stories and experiences, and lots of wisdom. Every wrinkle tells a story. May we all take the time to listen and learn.