A few days ago I was at the supermarket with my 3-year-old son at the checkout. An older gentleman stood behind me with his walker, and 2 items to buy. I offered him to go ahead of me, he looked shocked I even offered and actually said “oh no, that’s ok”,
“Honestly” I replied, “no need for you to wait for all my items to go through you only have 2 things!” So he thanked me graciously and went ahead.
As he walked passed my 3 year old son piped up and very loudly asked him,
“What’s your name?” it was the cutest thing and actually shocked me a bit that he had taken such an interest in this older gentleman, instead of begging me for a kinder surprise like he usually does.
“You can call me Len son, my name is Len. What is your name?” he replied.
“Kobi”, my boy said.
“no KOBIIIIIII” laughed Kobi.
“Bohdi” he asked again…
Kobi burst into laughter, “NOOOOOOO KOOOOOOBBBBBBIIIII” Kobi was cracking up laughing and so was Len.
By now a radius of people surrounding us were also laughing along with them and had even stopped what they were doing to watch and admire this gorgeous exchange.
“Ohh yes” Len exclaimed, “Kobi is a fine name!”
“You have met a new friend today!” the check out lady said.
She put his 2 items through and said to him “$18 please”. He had only a pump bottle of water and a row of batteries. He initially had a $10 note to pay, but started fumbling in his wallet to find some more money. I offered to pay the rest, saying how expensive batteries had become these days, (I assumed that is what the old guy was thinking) but he wouldn’t have it.
“No no no no no, I have the money” he said, “but thankyou”
I think I kind of embarrassed him by offering, I even felt a bit regretful that I did. He turned to me and said, “I was born in 1926. A lot has changed in those years.” He smiled and started to gather his wallet and bag.
I tried to do the maths, (maths is not my forte) another lady gasped, “You are 95 years old! How amazing”
Len just shrugged his shoulders and smiled, saying cheerio to us all with a special goodbye to Kobi by shaking his little hand. I still had a full trolley to go through the checkout but all I wanted to do was find out more about this lovely man Len. As my items beeped through the buzzer I watched him walk away.
I bet in his younger years he would have been a knock out. Still at 95 he is very well dressed, handsome, tall and witty man. He had a walker but still seems very upright and strong in the way he walked, maybe it was precautionary considering his age. I felt this pull in me that I wanted to find out more about his life. Not in a nosy way, I was just intrigued by his back-story. I wonder what he did as a job in his younger years, who the love of his life was or is, where he lived, what makes him happy. And I wished I had a photo of him, so I could show Gaving and the girls the nice man Kobi and I met today when I got home. In almost 100 years, the stories he must have, and how much the world has changed in his eyes from when he was a little boy like Kobi. In a short space of time this man just made everyone’s day, and I think we made his day too. All being strangers but in a space of time we were all instantly connected. The photographer in me wished I could take Len’s portrait. Writing this now, I cannot completely remember his facial features. Just that he had white hair and kind eyes.
It also occurred to me that he didn’t want pity, he didn’t want to be treated inferior; he could wait his turn, and pay for his items like everyone else. What he did enjoy was the interactions with Kobi, and the conversation with all of us. Paying it forward with money can be a really nice gesture, but giving someone your time and respect seems so much deeper and significant overall.
We often look at the older generation, and we do admire how sweet they are, but often we feel sorry for them or they are just ignored completely. We are running such busy lives. Who has time to stop and listen to an old person’s story when you have a never ending to do list? I know I am guilty. But in reality all it takes is a smile and a warm hello sometimes.
I don’t even want to even think about the times senior citizens are abused, tricked or mistreated and given absolutely no respect at all. But it happens. There is also this fear that people have, about growing old. I would like to think when I am old and weary, the people around me would give me kindness, respect, and care enough to have a conversation with me. That I wouldn’t feel lonely, invisible and unimportant.
When I got home, it then occurred to me that I wanted to be able to do more to bridge that gap. I made a decision in that split second that I am going to spend a whole day every month dedicated to meeting people who may feel like they are forgotten in our society. I am going to learn more about them and what makes them happy. I am going to do my best to put a smile on their face, and I am going to take their portrait so that everyone has the chance to experience that same moment and learn something about a stranger. I want to listen to them, capture them in that moment and just give them unconditional love. Arriving as a stranger but leaving as a friend.. The portrait will not outline their weaknesses but show their strength and unique personalities, and be an image that they can be proud of, and share with their friends and family. To make them feel special, and to share their joy with them. This may be an older citizen like Len, or people with physical or mental disabilities or those who are struggling in this world. I want to help connect these people to everyone else, and also show others to reach out to strangers and make them smile too. Everyone can do his or her bit to make this world a better place. Not because they have to or should, but because they want to give back to others.
GIVING is such a special thing. It is addictive, the best drug out there if you want to feel that fire in your belly, and those endorphins take over. It gives you a natural high like no other. Giving with absolutely no want for anything in return but this feeling we feel inside. True happiness.