The next guy in line


We will all be old someday. These folks we see shuffling about on their canes and walkers, these people with their thin hair and wide suspenders who speak their mind and hold up lines, they will be us.   I see you standing there on your strong legs rolling your eyes at the old gent who is slow to use his debit card at the grocery store.  You forget--that old guy used to be young.  He didn't just drop out fully formed with a bald spot and a cane.  Maybe the old man worked his ass off his whole life, raising kids and paying off a mortgage.  Maybe he lost his innocence on a bloody battlefield in Korea or Vietnam.   Maybe his wife passed a few years ago and his kids are a thousand miles away and he feels like he’s already given everything he had to give and now he’s just marking time and hoping he gets to die in his own bed. 

Old people were young people like you.  And because everything truly has been done before, they worried about the same things you worry about now:  jobs, kids, car payments, and the light bill—normal things that young people in the prime of their lives deal with.  The seasons spin by in a blur of cold winters and lazy summers.  Diapers give way to baby steps, little league and driver’s licenses, and before you know it, graduations.  How does it all go by so fast?

Remember when you were a kid and you went to an old aunt’s house and looked at all the ceramic whatever’s and the Afghans and the cheap landscape paintings hanging on the walls behind the furniture and you thought, who could live like this?  Of course, you were 12 and had no idea that to your old aunt this house was more than a home—it was a safe harbor, a refuge, a place where the dated furniture and decor was a calming reminder of bygone days when the world seemed like a much less frightening place. 

One day you might be standing at a cash register with a piece of plastic in your hand and the line building behind you and the clerk giving you a dirty look while you fumble with the keypad, and suddenly all of the wonderful things you did in your life, the wars you fought, the children you raised, the lives you touched, all of that, is reduced to this one horrifying, embarrassing moment where none of that matters and you are just another bumbling old person holding up the line.

And wouldn't it be something if the next guy in line smiled instead of smirked and said “Take your time, sir.  We’re in no hurry.”   Such simple words acknowledging the shared destiny of all us who are lucky enough to achieve it:  old age.  There's no rush, because we're all going to get old someday.

If we're lucky.