Yesterday, I was graced by the help of a young man who had no clue how much his assistance meant to me.
Due to a funky situation with my back, I don’t walk — I hobble. And it hurts. All day, every day.
So when I had to actually get a ride and go to the store for groceries yesterday, instead of my usual ordering online/store-delivery, it was a very big deal.
What used to take me twenty minutes whizzing around the store on my two strong, agile legs, now took me two and a half hours.
A little more than two hours in, I was this far away from breaking into rivers of tears. I was in so much pain!
But then I thought, ‘dammit! I WILL prevail!’
At that moment, a tall, slender, young man wearing the store apron walked by. I stopped him, and told him I couldn’t find my favorite cookies, and would he please find them and bring me a package?
He said sure, and ran off to get them — all the way across the store and back again in a flash.
I said to him, “Thank you so much! You’re my Hero!”
He kind of grimaced, like he was thinking, “Oh god, seriously? A hero for getting some stupid cookies?”
I noticed he looked a little ticked off, and uncomfortable — like, ‘What else is this crazy lady going to ask me to do?’
So I said, “Thank you again, and please don’t let me interrupt your day!”
As I checked out, he happened to walk by. Since I was about to make my way to the other end of the store to the big outer doors, I motioned to him and said, “walk with me, will you? I want to tell you something.”
Now he looked really uncomfortable! Ask me if I cared. Nope. I didn’t, because I was about to blow his dismissive attitude out of the water. Well, I hoped I could, anyway.
As we approached the big doors, I pulled over to the side and asked him to stand with me as we let other people by. I was having one of those sorry-I-can’t-move-right-now moments my legs drop on me now and then.
I held onto the bar on the shopping cart for balance. I asked him to come closer, and said, “can you do me a favor a moment and imagine something with me?”
Now he REALLY looked like he was going to run away!
I laughed and said, “It’s OK, you’ll see.” Just like a new colt at his first race, nervously twitching his legs, he was about to bolt.
“Imagine that you’ve had a night out,” I continued. “It’s 5 am, and you’re dragging yourself into bed, so tired you can’t even take off your clothes, and you don’t care, you just want to get horizontal. Ever been there?”
He chuckled and nodded.
“OK, now imagine that, 13 years ago, you had a botched surgery that messed up your hormones so bad, you gained 100 pounds in 6 months. You have never been able to get them off.
“So now, even though you are so exhausted, someone has asked you to carry ten full one-gallon jugs of water around for them. You do know that a gallon of water is about ten pounds, right?”
He said, “Yes! And if I had to get up that tired to carry ten jugs across a room — or anywhere, I’d have been so pissed!”
I said, “I know, right? Now one more thing. As you carry those jugs across that room, someone stabs you — hard! — in the small of your back with a sharp, very pointy knife. And stands there, twisting it. And never stops. And you can’t reach them to stop them. EVer.”
His eyes got wide and declared, “No! No way! I’d turn around and punch them off me!”
I stood with him as he contemplated the scene again: the tiredness, the poundage, the knife.
I continued, “THAT is how I feel. All day. Every day. 24/7.”
I watched his eyebrows climb into his hairline. “All day? Every day?”
Nodding, I said, “Now you know why I said you were my hero, when you went all the way across the store to get my cookies. That one little sprint you thought nothing of? That would have taken me ten, full, excruciating minutes. I was already about to lose it. And then I’d have had to hobble all the way back, ten more minutes, just to check out.”
I saw something click in his head. His shoulders, which had been in defensive mode up around his ears, came down.
He straightened up. Looked me right in the eye, and said, “Wow. Wow. Thank you for telling me, I’m kind of …”
It looked like he was about to cry, or sneeze, or some other non-manly thing.
I saved him — I said, “Now you know.
“And let’s go further — think about each and every little old man who’s hunched over his walker, trying to shuffle across the street, and every little old lady navigating around on her cane — they aren’t slow because they’re trying to hold you up. They are in PAIN.”
He flinched, and I said, “Yes! Flinch, but that’s what it’s like!
“Imagine it! You have lived fifty or sixty good productive years, and suddenly at sixty-five or seventy, that strong body of yours says, ‘Well, I’m done! You’ve hurt me and used me up and worn me out enough. I am busted, and broken, and in pain, and you are going to pay.’
“And it hurts. All day. Every day. And night.
“And one doctor after the other just wants you to suck down pain pills, but can’t do one thing to fix you up.
“Pain pills that make you sleepy all day. Or that make you into some stupid schlubb, destroying your ability to think straight. And they don’t really do much for the pain, anyway. So why bother?
“That, my dear young man, is why I said you were my Hero!
“Because you saved me from breaking down right then and there in pain and misery. Your wee act of kindness helped me carry on for just long enough to finish my shopping, so I can go home and get horizontal for the two days it will take to recover from this ordeal.”
My friend came through the open doors right then — nice timing, right?
I hobbled out after them, as they went ahead to put the bags into the boot of her car.
He rushed over and opened the door for me. I slowly got in, and as he shut the door, leaned over and lightly touched my shoulder, as he said, “Thank you … thank you.”
I just nodded and grinned.
One more good man saved from a nasty attitude about old people.
Thanks for reading my story. I almost didn’t write it, because it felt so pitiful. But then I thought, how many other older folks — people who have lived really good, productive, interesting lives — are silent about how they are treated, just because they don’t move fast enough for the younger gazelles in the herd? I speak for them, too, because each and every one of them — us! — should be honored and respected for long, worthy, well-lived lives.
My Queendom for A Bag of Cookies
© Angela Treat Lyon 2023
Image: Raven Speaks
© Angela Treat Lyon 1999
Part of my well-lived life: instagram.com/angela.treat.lyon/