To The Elderly Man in the Bookstore

Sir,

When I see you I can’t help but think that age is just a vicious trick nature pays on the young. We are vain, and wasteful, ungrateful for our bodies which weather so quickly. And it seems so cruel to someone still full of life, still scared of age but timidly stepping into her rightful place as a woman, to see these stooped, shaking men… the ones who are pictured swinging joyfully from lamp posts just 50 years before… I wonder if they knew they’d get old. I wonder if they would weep to see the stooped man they’ve become. Do they stare at photos of themselves in their prime and ache for it? Do women like me remind them of girls they knew? Strong, kind, full of life and gumption. Is there a resentment that they feel when we smile sympathetically and speak softly, as if to a child, as if they never held a little brunette in their arms, as if they are fragile. But they are still men. They are still men! No less than they were, but for a few inches in stature, a few hairs, and color in their cheeks. Respect for my elders. Oh, but my elders were young once. And what a cruel, cruel thing to lose. I mourn for all the young men lost. I ache for their optimism, and naivete. What a beautiful thing it is to hold, like the warmth of a girl in your arms, the knowledge of which and absence thereof leaves you feeling cold. I try to freeze myself in time. I look for grey hairs and swing from trees. I am in limbo. And I mourn for all the young men lost.

Lili

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2 thoughts on “To The Elderly Man in the Bookstore

  1. I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Aging is a natural process and people grow old gracefully. Yeh when you’re older you don’t go running for the bus or throwing yourself around the football pitch but you’ve got other pleasures denied to the young. Kids, grandkids, respect from others, a lifetime of achievements to bolster you. If you play your cards right you probably have a bit of money behind you, you have time to read all the books you missed out on, you can be annoyingly young and keep up with trends and changes in society. My Dad is 52 now and he has his own internet advice column for people who do weightlifting… and a youtube channel showing them how to do it. My grandfather is 82 and has two false knees. He taught himself how to read by lamplight during breaks in mine shifts when he was 14, and he has read thousands of books since retirement. When he walks down the street every man from 20 to 90 knows who he is because of his time as a trade union leader and even though he’s a quiet old man who watches the church on the mornings now you can still see in the other old men’s eyes that they still view him as the explosive firebrand who everyone was a bit frightened of forty years ago.

    Growing old is only sad if you only value the fruits of youth.

  2. Ian, totally agree with your feelings that there is value in growing older. This piece is more about my own struggle with what it means to step into adulthood, and a mourning for the things we lose as time passes. There’s a certain blindness that the young have, this fixation on the self where we feel immortal and live indulgently, and I can just imagine the disappointment that one might feel later in life when that theory of immortality is proven wrong. It’s also the loss of what it traditionally means to be a man, the idea of strength and virility, and how that seems to fade at a certain point, and what that loss must mean to someone. I don’t think this piece explores the questions I have as much as it could, nor does it acknowledge the things we gain with age. It was just a reaction to a flicker overwhelming sadness I felt.

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