My work places me in contact with those who have lived a lot of years. The last chapter of their life waiting to be experienced. Many refer to these folks as “elderly.”
I recently met one of these elderly persons. A woman, ninety three years old. Sitting upright in her chair, staring into the TV, she turned to look at me. I caught a bit of the sun on her face, sparking the blue in her still electric eyes. Her breathing was halted; she wore an oxygen tube around her nose to help guide each breath into her lungs.
We got to talking a little. I was there to ask her questions about herself, get a little history of her past, that sort of thing. She told me where she was from, what her life was like. She shared with me some pictures and spoke a little of her husband, gone eight years: what they did together, what she missed, and how she hopes to see him again after she’s gone.
As we paged through the rest of the photographs, she came upon one when she was younger, maybe sixty. She was holding her first grandchild in her arms, her eyes resting on the face of that baby, she said “Isn’t she beautiful?” A strong and proud smile creased her lips, and she looked back at me.
I took this opportunity to interject the following statement: “You mean the baby or the woman holding her?” She giggled a little bit, and her laugh trailed off. “No, no…I mean my granddaughter. I used to be not too bad looking.” She stopped, looked away and said “Beauty fades as you get older. I’m not very pretty these days.” Her smiled weakened and she set the pictures down on her lap.
I said “I think you’re beautiful. I saw how your eyes exploded with blue when I walked through the door. I was so taken with your smile as you looked at the picture of your grandchild, and I just watched in wonder how the expression of happiness brought such light to your face. You are beautiful, without question.”
She thought for a minute. In almost a stoic seriousness, she said “Do you not see the wrinkles on this face?” and those blue eyes looked right into me. I said “Actually, if you really want to know, I did but they didn’t really catch my eye. Your eyes and your expression overtook my focus. When I looked at you, I think I saw you as the person, the feelings moving from your heart captured in your smile. When I saw you, I saw who you are and maybe a little of where you’ve been. That’s all that mattered. And what I saw was beautiful to me.”
She looked at me, nodded, and thanked me. I made another time for us to meet. As I was leaving I heard her whisper “Thank you” over the hum of her oxygen. And as I reached for my keys as I was heading out the door, I said “The pleasure was all mine, blue eyes. See you next week.”