Back in the day – back in the day when no one said back in the day – Covenant Woods would not have been a retirement community, it would have been an old folks’ home. Most days retirement community seems appropriate. But there are days – last Saturday, for instance – when age and the problems associated with it are all too apparentShortly after one that afternoon, I blew the dust out of my mailbox and started back down the long hallway to the B building, only to find myself behind a slow moving gentleman whom I don’t remember having seen before. He must be well up in his eighties. He uses a walker, and he is blind.
There are six sets of windows, spaced twenty feet apart, in the hallway. Between each set of windows there is a bar about hip high. The man held the bar with his right hand and guided the walker with his left as he went down the hallway. When he reached the end of the bar, he stopped, found the windows, and then, tapping the windows as he went, proceeded until the windows ended. Then he found the bar and used it until he reached the next set of windows.
The hallway opens into a small lounge area. When he got there, the man stopped, fiddled with his walker to get it pointed in the right direction. Then he walked until he ran into the opposite wall, directly in front of the elevator button, which he pushed. When the elevator arrived, he got on.
While I was cruising the parking lot a day or two later, I saw Annie, who works with Penelope, the activities director. I asked her about the man. She said he recently lost his wife. Besides using the walls to guide him, she said he counts steps to stay oriented. He was quite an inspiration.
A little later Saturday afternoon, around quarter past four, I was sitting at my computer, bored and uninspired, when I heard a woman yell, “Help, I’ve fallen.” It was Frances. She must have fallen as she was about to leave her apartment; her door was open, and she was lying face down in the doorway. A woman in the hall was talking to the lady in the apartment across from Frances’, urging her to call the front desk. But the woman in the apartment was having difficulty finding the number. I’ve got the number in my cell phone and alerted the people up front. “Oh, Lord, why did you let this happen to me?” the woman asked as she waited for help. The hall filled up with those wanting to help and with those merely curious. When the aides arrived, I left in order to stay out of the way. But I did see one of the aides a little later; she said Frances wasn’t hurt.
Heading up the hallway to dinner that afternoon, I met up with Al. He said he’d noticed a small pool of blood beneath the skin on his penis.
“I don’t know what caused it. I don’t have any trouble urinating,” he said and then added, “I haven’t had a hard-on in twenty years.”
He used words “penis,” “urinating” and “hard-on” several times each as we walked to the dining room. He never used the common slang terms for “penis” or “urinating.” But a hard-on was always a hard-on, never an erection. I’m not sure what that says about Al. And I’m not sure what noticing such things says about me.
For all his talk about his health problems, I don’t think eighty-eight year old Al is afraid to die. But he is afraid he might have to live without the ability to do so many of the things he is able to do now. He’s led a full life. “I’ve been around the world – twice,” he says, “And done everything I wanted to do.” Al isn’t concerned with life after death: he isn’t hoping to go to heaven, and he doesn’t fear going to hell. “I’m a hundred and eighty-five pounds of chemicals. That’s all,” he says. “Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.” Hell to Al would be outliving his ability to enjoy life.