We Americans are obsessed with youth and love exploiting the fear of old age. Old is out. Gray is bad. Gravity defying, big buoyant boobs, and steel buns are in. Aging has become a sin. Like leper colonies, there are too many facilities being built for us. People cringe when they see us shuffling our walkers across their floors. Could this ever happen to me? Yes. In every aging mind, the haunting question lurks. Let's pretend we are not aging. Let's erase the wrinkles and plant a smile for posterity.
When I was young, we admired our elders. We looked to them for wisdom and common sense - not that they all had it, but many of them did. I loved the warm affection and acceptance I felt sitting on my Aunt Lizzie's lap. Who ever worried about her flabby arms and turkey jowls? But, that was then. Forget respect now; a wrinkle-free face and a pair of tight jeans have replaced that too. Then there is death - death is the polite thing old people do somewhere else behind closed doors.
"What good is a song without lyrics?" He grumbled one last time. I told him that his good deed would go over better if he would shut up. He laughed and agreed.
"Here they are, Molly." Jack matched our tickets with our seat numbers motioning for me to enter the row and sit. Not being a fan of classical music, it was a purely charitable act for him to accompany me to the hall.
A few seats down the row I shuffled and sat next to an older gentleman, who appeared to be in his eighties or maybe nineties - a thin, frail looking man, who wore an old suit that was too big for his shoulders and waist. With his meek and gentle eyes, he smiled politely. Cordially, I returned the gesture.
Pretending to look past him, I noticed his white cotton pajama bottoms with dark blue pinstripes peeking out from under the cuffs of his suit pants. In addition to this peculiar sight, he wore soft brown leather slippers to substitute for a pair of dress shoes. Stealing a few more glances, I spied a plastic band around his wrist that was nearly concealed by the arm of his suit jacket. It was not difficult to guess that he was an escapee from a local nursing home or maybe a mental hospital. But, when I saw his gentle face, his warm eyes, and calm demeanor, I felt assured that he was most likely a nursing home refugee; not an uncommon sight around Sarasota.
I glanced over at him in the dark. He was still and his breathing grew silent. I stared through the darkness. His head slumped forward - chin upon his chest. The hall thundered with applause concluding the performance. A wave of panic swept over me for a second and then passed. The lights came on. The old man sat motionless. His breathing stopped. His unblinking eyes had come to rest. He was dead.
I turned to my husband and began to stutter:
"I, I think, I think the, the man next to me is...is dead."
"He's what?" Jack questioned.
"Dead, I said." Jack stood up and looked around and then changed places with me as the audience began exiting the Hall. My husband located an usher and gave him our ticket stub so they could quickly find the old man's seat. Following the tail end of the departing crowd, we left the building. I never told Jack what I had noticed about the old man before the concert started. I just wanted to protect this poor man's secret. The ride home was quiet that night. I began to worry. The question echoed in my thoughts throughout the short ride home; did I do something wrong? Had I made a mistake? Maybe he needed medication; I wondered. Oh my God, what had I done?
"Well, how do you like that!" Jack remarked.
"I wondered why he was wearing slippers."
"Oh, you noticed that, Molly?"
"Well, yeah; didn't you?"