Life Lessons on Transit
“Old age ain’t no place for sissies!”~ Anonymous*
Some days when I sit down to write a blog post, I get stuck. Like today, my brain refuses to move out of neutral. I sit with my fingers poised on my keyboard. And then nothing.
Frustrating? You bet!
When this happens (more often than I like), I try to relax and let my mind wander. That is the easy part. The hard part is trying to catch a thread of an idea before the thoughts bounce off to hide in other regions of my brain. Elusive, wisps of ideas drifting away from my mind.
Aha! At last, a memory!
Let me tell you a story. This tale occurred some years ago, the details may be a little faded, but the essence remains.
Heading home on the bus after a long, tiring day, I stared out of the window, lost in a blue funk. I had recently celebrated my 50th birthday and was feeling sorry for myself. My thoughts were a sad jumble of regret, fear, and negativity. I felt as if reaching the half-century mark was the beginning of the end. There was nothing to look forward to but more grey hair, more wrinkles and a slow decline into a dull and lonely existence. Poor me!
In my self-imposed misery, I had not noticed we were stopped for longer than usual. I peered around at my fellow passengers and saw no one was panicking or looking upset. I glanced at the driver. He was gazing out the side window, patiently waiting. He announced that a woman would be boarding the vehicle in a few minutes. He explained she was a frequent traveller — fiercely independent and determined to be self-sufficient. He mentioned her struggles with mobility and asked us to be understanding and kind. He assured us that she preferred to enter the bus without assistance. He always let her do so.
He turned his attention to the street. Some minutes later, he opened the doors and let down the ramp.
The minutes ticked slowly by, the passengers all holding their collective breath. Finally, a woman struggled up the final steps into the bus, leaning heavily on a walker. She was tiny, with short, steel grey hair, wearing a cute knit hat with kitty ears. Her age was indeterminate, but I guessed she was between 70 and 85 years old. Her beautiful face was etched with wrinkles. Her body bent over the handles of her walker, which she gripped tightly, as she stood unsteadily, catching her breath. The bus driver greeted her with a friendly Hello! How is your day going? She smiled. Her face lit up as she replied — “It is a marvellous day! A wonderful day because, today, I am out and about”, she exclaimed!
As the woman began to inch up the aisle, it was clear she was in a great deal of pain. She painstakingly slid her right foot forward, then stopped and moments passed before she was able to move her left foot to complete the step. A young girl jumped up from her seat to help navigate the walker over the ridges on the bus floor. The driver cautioned, “Gently, gently.” Little by little and oh, so carefully, the woman managed to maneuver her walker to the nearest seat. The entire busload of passengers were respectful and quiet — some murmuring to each other. No one uttered a complaint or unkind word as the scene unfolded. Cautiously, the woman lowered herself onto a seat. Once she settled, the driver started down the road.
Two stops later, the driver opened the door and lowered the ramp. The woman took her time. With a great effort, she gradually pushed herself up to a standing position. She bent her arm behind her to massage the knots in her back, her face contorting into a grimace. She moved her arms like a ballerina, stretching and reaching — a languid arabesque. She faltered forward, then stopped and bent downwards, slow and with care — extended her legs, first one and then the other in an agonizing dance, trying to coax her limbs into motion.
After a few long moments, the woman limped down the ramp and onto the street. On the sidewalk, she stopped to stretch and reach her arms and legs again, bending slowly and gracefully down and back up before she shuffled on her way.
I was awed by that diminutive lady. Her courage to live life on her terms, despite debilitating pain, caused a paradigm shift in my brain. My internalized ageist beliefs shattered in those moments as I watched that beautiful woman move down the sidewalk. She was undeterred by her age or her disability. She was “out and about.” She was living her life.
That encounter changed something inside of me. I suddenly realized — I was in charge of my life. I was responsible for how I viewed myself in this world. I could choose how I wanted to live. I could be fierce, brave, strong, and joyful. I could start living (and loving) my life. Or, I could give up and spend the rest of my days lamenting my lost youth. Life lessons on transit.
I never saw the woman again, but I think about her often. I remember the joy on her face and the strength of her resolve as she went out and about. With that remembrance, I renew my commitment to myself — my promise to grow bolder, to keep learning, to seek out adventure, to love my life and live it to the fullest!
Here’s to always ageing!
*The quote posted at the top of this article has been attributed to various people, including Bette Davis. Quote Investigator concluded this quote origin was anonymous. Visit their website for more information.