Friday 7 August 2009

Keeping to the Subject

Last time, I suffered a crisis of conscience about whether my material was strictly relevant to my prime thesis: inside every elderly person hides a younger one struggling to reconcile him/herself with the inevitable changes that come with age. Now, I have an apposite story for you. The other day, I found myself creeping down some very steep, stone stairs at a London station in order to find the facilities. Alright, I agree, that is a bit precious: in order to find the toilets. Picture it: torrential rain, stick, umbrella, parcels and trailing raincoat. I was being very careful, indeed. Half way down, I heard hurrying footsteps behind me. In that situation I always stop and encourage the person to overtake, (except when the escalator at the cinema has broken down - see below) because they often have a purpose or are carrying trays or whatever and I do not wish to be responsible if they are paid by the hour. Anyway, there I was concentrating on my crawl and pointedly standing aside so that a young woman could overtake me. She stopped alongside me. "Your shoelace is undone," she said. I looked down. It was. Now, as I'm sure you will appreciate, falling over is not recommended for the elderly. Things get broken and take ages to put together, unless you do a Humpty and never come together again. "Would you like me to tie it for you?" Before I could respond - or bring my jaw back to its responding position - she was crouching beside me doing up my lace.

I was filled with a mixture of feelings: outrage, shock, gratitude, a bit of shame, relief. I did manage to hover over these feelings and, I think, thank her adequately and in time. I was left wondering what she had seen. She must have seen a tentative, not to say doddery old lady, burdened with paraphanalia, not savvy enough to notice her shoelace was undone, at immediate risk of a serious accident; out of control of her well-being. "But that isnt who I am," I wanted to protest. "I am Liz and there are little people for whom I tie shoelaces and I wear high heels and I help the elderly cross the road. And, what's more, I run down the stairs to the 'toilets'". But I don't anymore, only on the inside. It was a surreal incident and struck me as one that qualified without question for the 75 going on 45 phenomenon.

One of the sweetest happenings in an earlier life occured when I had the care of a seriously incapacitated woman I had come to love deeply. (To give you the whole picture, I should say that before her unfortunate predicament, I had found her rather hard to love. She had a robust personality and we clashed.) Anyway, came the first time I needed to help her shower. I, myself, was ready dressed and made up, too. I put her stool in the shower and prepared to help her on to it. Although she couldn't speak, she had certain noises at her disposal and she could still laugh. This she did, pointing at my face and my clothes. Her unimpaired intelligence had noted what I had missed: I was going to get very wet, indeed. So, I stripped off and joined her under the shower. Her delight was further enhanced both by the sight of my face, running with mascara and my dripping hair. I know the incongruity of what we had done gave her pleasure for all the months that remained to her and she would sqeeze my hand and point to my face and hair whenever it came to mind. Perhaps for her, in that situation, we were peers playing in the water together: both 80 -odd going on 17. See you soon.

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