We all know someone, or lots of someones, who might be considered "elderly". They've lived long lives and raised their families. Some have had the pleasure of meeting, holding and loving their children's children, and even their children's children's children. They've also lost loved ones and old friends ... to distance and war and time and accidents and disease.
While their memories are sharp, they remember the old days: jobs they've held, homes they've lived in, friends they've know, cars they've owned or driven, and even old loves. Older veterans may think back to the battles they fought in the fields and on the beaches of Europe, or the Pacific Ocean, or Korea, or Viet Nam.
"I wonder what ever came of Arkie from the steel mill," one might think. Or ... "I wish I still young enough, and healthy enough, to do the things I used to do ... so easily."
Mothers think about the homes they've made out of whatever was available to them. They think about those jobs they took "just to help make ends meet." Some think about the kids they've raised and the husbands they've loved and the hours spent ironing, and cooking, and sewing, and maybe even canning food for the pantry. Maybe she thinks about sheets on the clothes line blowing in the summer breeze.
"I miss those evenings when the whole family gathered around the table for supper," she might think. Or ... "I wish the kids were around to go to church with me."
Many of these senior citizens, as we've come to call them, sit alone as they think on these things. They sit in senior centers and on park benches and in old pubs and wonder what happened to their lives ... trying to grab hold of their yesterdays. Sometimes they grow lonesome.
John Prine's debut album was filled with great tunes. There is a song there called "Hello in There" that really describes how it might feel to get old and find that you are really not that important to folks around you anymore. It is one of my favorite Prine songs, but one of the saddest as well.
The end of the song challenges the hearer to take notice of the elderly among us ... to pay attention to our surroundings ... to look for a chance to say hello to someone who might need only that to make their day.
"Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger ... and old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day ... old people just grow lonesome ... waiting for someone to say, 'Hello in there, hello' ... So if you're walking down the street sometime ... and spot some hollow ancient eyes ... please don't just pass 'em by and stare ... as if you didn't care, say, 'Hello in there, hello.'"*
I'm guessing we will all end up there ... eventually.
(*From "Hello in There" by John Prine)