As I was eating at a restaurant the other day, I happened to look over at another table and couldn’t help but notice an elderly man as he ate. The trembling of his hands was noticeable, and it seemed that the act of chewing his food—something I take for granted—was an involved process requiring considerable focus and effort. I also saw that the napkin resting on his lap had become the destination for a good portion of the food he was attempting to pick up with his fork.
I found myself in awe of this man.
I felt intrigued by whatever it was that had inspired him to eat out and to consume his meal without help. Of course, I really had no idea what this experience was like for him—whether he felt a sense of satisfaction or frustration, or if this was the first or fifteenth time he’d been out to a restaurant in recent months.
After watching him for a minute or two, I noticed the person sitting across from him—a woman who I assumed was his wife. I couldn’t help but wonder what this meal was like for her. I imagined she might feel proud of him for the courage he was demonstrating, or that such positive feelings might have faded out of frustration or grief, or out of the sheer exhaustion that comes from helping and supporting someone day after day.
As I watched them, it was hard to say who was demonstrating more patience, and who seemed more inspiring. Certainly, it was impossible for me to understand the depth and complexity of their relationship.
I wanted to go over and say something, just to let them know how moving it was to see two people making the best of a situation that, no doubt, had its challenges. A part of me even wanted to sit down at their table and inquire about who they were and who they used to be and how they found their way through their weekends and weekdays. I realized, however, that their evening didn’t need my sentimentality or ignorance or curiosity. Probably, what they most needed was a night out in which they could fade into the scenery—be unnoticed and ordinary like the rest of us who, all too often, take such moments for granted.
No words are necessary. Many, MANY times I would be out with Mom and someone, a total stranger, would make eye contact and just nod at me. I knew they were approving of what I was doing. I’d smile, nod back, and say a prayer of thanks for that little bit of validation.
Lovely story, Karen! The other day, I was at the Asian Art Museum in SF viewing the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit and I noticed a man pushing a reclined wheelchair carrying a woman I thought, by their resemblance, to be his mother. It was obviously quite effortful for him to so patiently push her through the crowds, waiting his turn to allow her to listen to the audiocassette presentation. I wanted to walk over to him and tell him how lucky they were to have each other…. but then again, I think he already knew that! I am grateful that I found your website!