They do! I’ve discovered it first hand. I don’t know what I expected, but somehow my now aging memories of my own Grandmothers have blurred together and grown rosy, so that I’ve forgotten the sin components of our relationships. I remember only that my dear Grandma would ask me when I walked happily through her front door if I was a blue bird that day, since I was wearing blue. Though the variations only came with a changed shirt of a different color for the next visit, I delighted in her birdie comments, and even anticipated them as I walked up the cracked sidewalk to her front door. My Grandma’s house always felt so safe to me and the unvarying nature of the birdie greetings lodged deep inside of me to help define what I would come to think of as security.
My Grandma – in the stories remaining in my admittedly selective memory – saved up all her junk mail for me to play ‘business’ with. She even got my sisters and I special triplicate invoicing pads where we could transact very serious trade with one another, using her old purses, saved I think, specially for this purpose. She carefully set aside all her tiny plastic pill bottles for us, too, because she knew that once summer came along, we loved nothing more than to ransack her rose bushes to make specially concocted perfume in them. We messed up her bedroom closet almost every visit and she never once led me to believe that it was a bother to her. We played in there, you see, and not once did she show her sinful self to me. Ten-year-olds are very forgiving creatures, I’ve found and they generally think the adults in their lives are well-nigh perfect, barring some pretty overt evidence to the contrary. A little kindness to these young ones is a powerful thing.
And so it went that in my early days of volunteering at the senior’s home, I was a little surprised to see senior sin rearing its’ ugly head at times. I suppose I thought they’d all be perfectly blameless and perfectly loving, since of course they were perfectly white-haired. I think perhaps I thought the term ‘senior sin’ was oxymoronic, if it existed at all.
I remember on one early visit, listening to one of these white-headed little ladies ordering all the surrounding ladies around as though they were her eager minions with nothing better to do that to obey her exacting whims. One exchange I remember sounded something like this:
Queen Bee: Let’s go down to the chapel now. The woman says that there are going to be some people singing there.
Minion: But they aren’t scheduled to start for 30 more minutes, Dorothy.
Queen Bee, not pleased at being questioned on her judgement in this matter: It doesn’t matter! We should get there early.
The end result was a group consisting of Queen Bee and her very compliant friends shuffling off en masse with their walkers in the direction of the chapel.
Another eye-opening experience I had while visiting my friends there took place on the day my friend Dora asked if I would wheel her down to the cafe, which was several buildings over. Granting her request was really, quite a commitment, especially when one factored in the extensive wheelchair navigation that would be necessary in order to get her there. However, it’s a rare thing for a lady there to desire freedom and novelty and so I agreed. When we eventually got to the cafe, she wheeled up to the counter, and chose several noteably unhealthy things to eat and to drink as I looked on ignorantly. Quite indelicately, I thought, she feasted on her treats. I noticed that she didn’t offer me one sliver of anything, not that I was finding any of it all that appetizing in that moment. She ate chips and she ate chocolate. And she drank Coke after Coke. When finally she was done, I pushed her at great effort back to her room, where I noticed a sign had been posted notifying all of her care givers with the wherewithal to read it, that she was under no circumstances to have any food outside of the cafeteria as she had begun recently to choke quite seriously and that it had progressed to become a health hazard to her. When I questioned her about it, it became clear that not only did she know about her new eating rules, she had deliberately hoodwinked me into taking her for her clandestine feast. I was so angry as I listened to her prevaricate and make her feeble excuses. I realized as she talked that she didn’t care about me in this matter. I realized that she wanted a Caramilk bar and putting me in the place of putting her in the place of danger was irrelevant to her thought processes. Her selfishness stunned me then and it still stuns me a bit now.
And so my journey of living life alongside seniors continues to unfold. They are lovely and they are awful, depending on the moment and how desperate they’re feeling just then. They are positive and they are depressed. They are inspirational examples of faith and hope and deep beauty and they are striking examples of how I do not want to be when it’s my turn to live out the life stage. Their mouths are chock full of words of encouragement and love and they fill these mouths sometimes with lying words that demonstrate their lack of concern for others around them. They are people. Why that comes as a surprise to me is a mystery as I reflect upon it. Why ever would I have expected otherwise?