As We Get Older, It’s The Little Things That Make a Difference

- Ron Jeffery

I was walking our labradoodle, Casta, recently in our neighborhood when I came upon a woman at the community mailbox. She noticed us and asked if she could pet Casta, which of course I agreed to.

As we began chatting, she indicated how lonesome she had become since her husband of over 50 years had passed away. She found the world just “too busy.” People seldom stopped to talk with her, as they were buried in their phones or simply didn’t look up or drove by in their cars.

Her health is relatively good, and she has chosen to stay in her home, though the price she is paying is not having social interaction each day. Her own family doesn’t live in the city, and while she does call some friends, it is not the same to her as being “with” someone. Her occasional “sighting” of her neighbours seldom results in a conversation. She finds using technology a bit baffling and has little use for a cell phone, though she does have one.

As we talked, Casta was reminding me we were out for a walk. But I didn’t rush, nor did I want to. I found the person in front of me engaging and fully involved in our conversation.

After almost a half hour (time flies when you are having fun) of discussing everything from the mail (mostly flyers); family (mostly living away); the weather (too hot or too cold); and some of the limitations of getting older (mobility issues) and so on, we did part ways. But not before she looked at me with her eyes moist and said, “Thank you. You have made my day.”

As I walked away from her with Casta (not before another pat on the head), it occurred to me just how simple it is for us to provide companionship, however brief; to engage another person directly rather than through social media or technology; or to look into a person’s eyes and make a connection with another human being.

It’s so simple, yet so increasingly rare – particularly with an elderly and lonely stranger in our neighborhood.

After a career in education where engagement through conversation was both essential and integral in the process of learning, I realize I have taken it for granted. But conversation is now even more important as I age, and I recognize how we all need this conversation and engagement to continue in the classroom of life.

The photo at the beginning of this article is from the last day of our stay in Portugal on a Longstay this past March. The two individuals both had some mobility issues and though part of our group, went their own ways during the month other than some social events. I spotted the two walking together to the bus – a simple arm for support – a simple gesture – that illustrated how little it takes to “make a difference.”

I only write the above to encourage small gestures that can help improve our lives as we age, to be more aware of our surroundings and people in it – to perhaps detect someone who might be seeking an interpersonal connection.

Talk “to” someone, not “about” someone.

It could make someone’s day.

It certainly made mine!