Over the years, I’ve met several people who impressed me immensely. They were in the main elderly, but they carried their age with dignity, pride and utter resourcefulness.
My sister was living in Cairns in North Queensland, Australia and as I hadn’t seen her for a number of years, I decided to go to Oz by myself to visit her. You must understand that for me, this was a difficult decision to make. I have flown to many parts of the world, but hate flying and to undertake such a journey, sent my head in a spin. But I really wanted to see me sister and so I set off for Cairns.
A few days after my arrival, we took the train up to a place called Karunda and whilst there, I stopped to speak to an old aboriginal man. His origins were obvious and he was sitting proudly upright on the side of a dusty path with his legs crossed and displaying the white soles of his dusty feet. His broad nose dominated his black, lined face and he was old, but how old it was impossible to tell. His lips were parted, showing uneven brown teeth that jutted out from his gums like so many broken tombstones.
He had stubbly, coarse grey hair and his tired, yellow-edged black eyes stared past me and away to the far distant horizon. He spoke with passionate wisdom in a deep sonorous voice about the history of his people and how difficult it was for them to fit into our world. To his simple mind, we should have been able to fit into his.
He was selling brightly coloured boomerangs and I shall always remember him. I bought one of course!
In the town where I lived a few years ago, I often used to see a tall elderly woman walking sedately along the footpath. She was always beautifully dressed with every hair in place and wore her hat at a jaunty angle. As I walked by she would smile sweetly and say hello. As a writer, I tended to look at people and try to imagine who they were and what sort of a life they had led.
One day I walked into a shop that sold greeting cards, books and small gifts for every occasion and standing before me was the old lady holding a paper bag in her gloved hands. She looked at me and recognition flared in her myopic eyes.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘My name is Lilian and I’ve just bought myself a treat. You see it is my birthday and I am 92 years of age today.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘How wonderful: many happy returns of the day.’
‘Yes, thank you and I’m so excited. You see, I’ve just bought a guitar and in this bag is a little book telling me how to learn to play it.’
‘A guitar,’ I said in some surprise.
‘I’ve always wanted to learn how to play one,’ she said with a giggle.
‘Well that’s wonderful…I…’
‘Oh, you don’t think that I’m too old to learn to play the guitar, do you,? she interrupted.
‘Lillian, of course I don’t. I hope you enjoy it.’
After that I often used to stop and chat with her and yes, she did learn to play the guitar, but unfortunately six months later she died. I will never forget Lillian or the proud way she used to hold her head when she spoke about her latest achievement. Such a pity it was her last. I shall never forget her.
The two people I have just described, although very different in every way, both had faith in themselves and in their abilities. My mother often used to say to me, ‘I don’t feel old inside you know. I still think of myself as being eighteen.’ We must never forget that with extreme age comes great wisdom and we must remember that they trod the paths which we now follow.