What follows is a very unusual post for Satisfying Retirement. It is a poem. You may have read this before on different web sites. There are all sorts of stories about where it came from and who wrote it. But, before I get into that, please just read the following. It is written from the perspective of a very old man in a nursing home:
Cranky Old Man
What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . ..my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. .... . ME!!
There are stories on the Internet that this was left behind by a man who died in a nursing home in Australia. The poem was discovered after his death by a nurse. Other sites claims that story is a hoax. They claim the poem was written by a youngish man who lives in Texas.
Frankly, I don't care where it came from. Whatever the source, this is a tremendously moving piece of writing, because it rings so true. Old people, especially those without the support system of a family, are left to a system that often treats them as simply numbers and no longer as people with stories and a history.
The impact of the message of Cranky Old Man will strike each of us differently. I for one, was deeply touched and ashamed that I have thought of too many very old people in exactly this manner. As I move through my sixth decade obviously all of this becomes more real to me. But, it isn't too late to change my mindset and try to see the whole person behind the wrinkles, pain, and loneliness. The physical decay of a body is inevitable. The decay of our respect for that person is not.