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A Reality Our Society Often Fails To Recognize

As the atmosphere became more and more alive and people stood by the stools waiting impatiently for other guests to finish their drinks and meals and leave, Kathleen’s soft but firm Australian accented words resonated in the room, making everyone around turn to her.

“You know, I don’t have anyone,” said Kathleen to a banker who was finishing his lobster roll next to her. She was sitting on the second to last stool to the right at the Oyster bar at Grand Central Station in New York City. “The money I have ….I forget where…I’ll remember now… all banks are crooks, you know.”

Some looked at her with a mixture of impatient admiration and puzzled bliss, while others obviously hoped that she would finish her last sip of Chablis, put on her red, visibly worn-out jacket, and pop up from her place to make it available for whoever was closer to catch it.

But Kathleen wouldn’t leave. Some knew her already and in cynical laughter assured she would stay another hour talking to just about anyone who approached the bar to have a beer or order some oysters.

It was my turn; Kathleen continued her story as if she had already been talking to me the whole afternoon. She spoke to me about magical days; in her eighty something year-old mind, and while savoring the last drops of her white wine, she remembered scattered images of better times.

“La, la, la, la, la, la, la …,” she sang softly remembering one of her favorite tunes, Once Upon A December, from the Anastasia movie theme and the Romanov’s story.

She told me she was a former dancer, a sublime red-haired actress, an unmatched stage performer, and a singer whose angelical voice was silenced by a mean man. Kathleen didn’t elaborate on that last detail; she just turned around to sign her bill, gave the bar tender the wrong copy and protested when he kindly told her so, as if it had not been her fault.

“But you see, it’s not my fault because now I don’t have anyone; I live in Queens by the….. you know that building?” She asked as if I were her neighbor. She finally stood up to leave. She had watery eyes and who knows what else in her head, because I don’t think she even knew. I offered a hug as I didn’t know what else to give her. She held me so hard as if trying to remember what receiving this kind of affection was like. I gently had to let her go and Kathleen picked up her three bags from the floor, put on her scarf and left the station never to look back…until the next day, when she would return again to the same place, to order the same wine and tell whatever story she chose to pull out of her archives.

Kathleen is only one of the many older men and women I have encountered recently. However, they have always existed. People who were once young and now don’t remember where they are, who they are, or if they are at all. Some of our cultures cherish the elderly and embrace them as they lose vitality and life; but nowadays, more and more, there is a lack of understanding. Many have a difficult time accepting that getting old is a fact and that our elderly need us to be there next to them, listening to their stories, laughing at their jokes, smiling, holding their hands, taking them to church or to sit by the ocean or to walk their dog. We are losing that special touch, that special principle that should never be left behind; that of making sure our older relatives and members of our communities feel loved, accepted, and always respected.

So, next time you see a Kathleen or you realize you haven’t called your parents or grandparents for a long time, or get upset because an old man or woman does something you disagree with, take a big breath and see how you can help them to make their world a better one; and yours a growing experience that will reflect in your own children. Don’t forget, you will also be old.

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