You’re Kind of Old, Aren’t You?
“When are you going to die?”
“When are you going to die?” The question was sincere and asked as though I had an answer. I stopped sweeping the garage floor to decide on an answer that wouldn’t cut the conversation too short; one that would provide a decent answer without harming either of us.
“Not for quite a while, I hope.” The question wasn’t one that had a pocket answer at the ready.
“You’re kind of old, aren’t you? I mean, you have wrinkles and grey hair and stuff.” Stating the obvious, waiting for an answer…
This kid, Ike, about 12, has interrogated me before. His family lives a couple of houses away. We often humor one another with off-the-wall comments and questions. This one about my inevitable end caught me a bit off-kilter. I’m reasonably fit (“for someone my age”, a phrase I don’t like much) try to keep up with news, some sports, and pay some attention to neighborhood goings-on. Usually that’s enough to feign a level of knowledge to contribute to a conversation.
“Wrinkles and grey hair don’t mean I’m old. Its just natures way of improving my appearance and signs that I learned a little over the years. You know, because I was around when important things happened.”
“Things? Like what?”
“Well, big things, like when an American first walked on the moon. Or, Martin Luther King’s, ‘I have a Dream’ speech. The end of polio vaccines and when people didn’t have to worry so much about other diseases that were common when I was your age, diseases you have never heard of, thankfully. Small things, too. Like how to write in cursive or how to keep a dog from biting you, or when the best time of day is for catching a fish.”
“Oh, so old people should stick around and tell kids about important things so we can do better in school, and not be afraid of trying tough things?”
He catches on fast and knows how to stroke my ego and keep me engaged. His friends are very similar. More of the people in my age bracket should talk to the younger generation. They might learn more than they teach. Socrates had the same issues with Plato, I read somewhere.
“Maybe we should just talk to one another more often and be patient enough to listen. Kids and old people are always trying come up with an answer before the questions are even asked. That’s impolite, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Some old people, you know not as old as you, try to explain things that I already know. Like I’m dumb or something.”
“It happens to me, too. All the time. Getting old makes lots of younger adults think we’ve forgotten everything, or didn’t know them in the first place.” I was compelled to tie my empathy to my self-pity, since he was being an active listener.
“I’m going to stop calling you Ike. Isaac is a better name for someone like you. You can call me Mr. H, if you want.”
“Okay, Mr. H sounds good. You can tell me things I don’t know and I will tell you kid stuff so you won’t be confused when you hear about it.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Greg Henderson is the retired founder of the Southern Oregon Business Journal. A University of Oregon graduate and a six year U.S. Air Force veteran, he spent nearly 30 years in banking and finance. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications concentrating on some 20 industry sectors. Contact him at email@example.com