The weather was typical for December here in the upper left corner; dense cloud cover, rain, strong winds. Jeni had an afternoon appointment with Dr. Tom, so we laced up, chose weather-proof outerwear and dodged the drops to the car..
I let her out at the door to the clinic while I searched for parking. With the sticker granting one hour of curb space secured in the window, I locked up and dashed for the clinic door myself.
In the lobby, was a man and a little girl, about three years old I’m guessing, both sitting on the floor, him with his smartphone, her with a child’s book, him reading something online, her too young to read and too energetic to merely sit with the pictures of her book.
Presently, the door to the exam rooms opened. A woman walked into the lobby, followed by a much older man. The little girl squealed; this was apparently her mother, who had accompanied her father to his doctor appointment. While the mom and daughter focused on each other after the brief separation, the old guy shuffled into the lobby behind. All of his attention was on the zipper of his jacket, which seemed to defy his attempt to engage the two halves. When the woman managed to get the girl into her little coat, she turned to the old guy, still working to solve his zipper riddle. Asked what the trouble was, he, clearly a most practical man, told her that if only he had a piece of string he could tie it onto the zipper tab, giving him something to pull on. No string being available in the waiting room, the woman helped fasten the disobedient zipper. The entourage, the woman the little girl and the younger man, made for the exit, with the old guy shuffling along behind.
Shortly the entry door opened again, revealing a man in a wheelchair pushed by a woman who I guessed to be about my age. The threshold plate stopped the wheelchair, so I rose from my chair to hold the door open while the woman backed the chair over the plate. While this went on, the older man in the chair fixed me with a look of worry, or mistrust, or perhaps both, or maybe just anxiety at being at the clinic for a visit with the doc. The receptionist greeted them, holding the door to the exam rooms open for the wheelchair.
I recognized each of these small dramas. At a certain point, I began attending the appointments of my mother, chauffeuring her to and from, holding doors open, guiding her through hallways, accompanying her into the various exam rooms. Eventually there was a wheelchair to be pushed. In addition to matters of mobility, there was her failing hearing, so my duties included listening to her caregivers, relaying the information to her, mentally recording the discussion so I could go over it all again with her later in the comfort and relative calm of her apartment.
On this particular afternoon at the clinic I did not, for the first time, identify with the role and duties of the grown sons and daughters, as I have done so many times before. It was the two old guys that had my attention.
I saw myself, in some future version of myself, with failing abilities to walk, to hear, to understand what a physician might be saying to me, to zip up my jacket. I saw a glimpse of myself no longer able to sufficiently function in the ways I have always taken for granted, lacking cognition, mobility, awareness, understanding; no longer able to manage my affairs, or my body, by myself.
It wasn’t long before Jeni emerged through the door, her appointment with Dr. Tom concluded. We each fastened our own zippers and stepped briskly to the car for the drive home.
Later, settled in at home, I told Jeni of the small dramas I had observed in the waiting room. When I had described the circumstances of the two old guys, I paused, met her eyes and said “I don’t ever want to be that old.”
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”
Rainer Maria Rilke