The bank line was already four deep when I arrived and took 5th place. At the counter with the sole teller was a hunched over, disheveled man of obviously advanced years. The teller, in a forced, “can you hear me now” kind of voice, said, “No, Mr. Harris, your savings account is below the limit, so you have to pay a fee.” She glanced over at the line and mouthed, “Sorry”. The old man turned and saw the line, and grew even more confused. Rushed and obviously embarrassed, still not understanding the teller’s repeated explanations, he finally mumbled, “I’ll come back later” and shuffled off.
In front of me, a middle-aged woman with L’Oreal blonde hair and heavy makeup, said, “Thank God!”, and several others nodded. I weakly defended him, saying, “Well, he’s a customer, too.” The ageist woman shot me a dirty look.
Once the aged consumer was driven off, the line flowed smoothly and rapidly, the teller apologizing for the wait to each of us in turn. I did my banking task and then spent the morning thinking about aging and how it is no wonder that we are all terrified of getting old.
We do not value long life – not for ourselves, and not for those who currently live it. We treat our elderly fellows with, at best, paternalistic condescension, and, at worst, rude intolerance. In public places, we chastise them for the unforgivable sin of making us stand still for a few moments, as if we could not all benefit from that little rest. Our lack of empathy is not only cruelly damaging to the elders we encounter, it is utterly destructive to our ability to age well.
Do we really want to wake up one day and find ourselves anxious and ashamed over simply going to the bank to ask a question? By our attitudes, we are creating the future in which we will one day live.
Look for opportunities to be mindful of your reactions towards elders. Their number is growing rapidly, and one day, if you are fortunate, you will count yourself among them.