When I was a kid and my grandmother said, “Straighten up and fly right!” It meant pull your shoulders back and act proud to be who you are. When I was a teenager and she said it, I recall coming up with this flippant remark: “People don’t fly. So it won’t do me any good to straighten up!” If only I had noticed old people then, I might have paid closer attention. But I didn’t. They were a separate species and not on my radar at all.
I realize now that there are two kinds of slumpers: teenagers, who haven’t yet grown used to their bodies and old people, who are getting tired of them. However, I have discovered a little known secret about the older ones: If you smile at them, they actually stand up straighter. Here’s the problem. Who smiles at them anymore?
Face it. Getting old means getting less attention. In fact, it’s so much less it borders on non-existent. Old people are so used to being ignored that they are disappearing right before our eyes. No, not like in primitive societies where they literally walked off into the wilderness when it was ‘time to go.’ In modern society, they do it in small steps. It starts with that slump–a drawing in to their shell–perhaps so they won’t be bumped & jostled by all those young people rushing past them. The voice gets softer, not just because it’s worn out, but because there’s no real reason to raise it anymore. Who is listening?
This morning, I noticed an older woman shuffling towards the supermarket a few feet ahead of me. She had the slump and the slowed gait as she tentatively moved towards the large, heavy, glass door. I realized that she was trying to estimate how much time she had to pull that door open before a young man coming towards her from the other side got there first. She hesitated. Smart woman. He blammed through the door and would have flattened her if she hadn’t paused. In fact, he didn’t even SEE her. Quickly, I grabbed the door handle and held it for her. For half a second she looked up, took a big breath and smiled. “Oh, thank you dear,” she said. As she continued on towards the shopping carts, I noticed she was actually standing taller. I could hear Nat King Cole singing in my head: Straighten Up And Fly Right.” (http://www.helen-hudson.com)