You will either die or you will get old. Most of us would prefer that the latter precedes the former. If you’re not old yet, or perhaps even if you are, you will perhaps shudder at the decrepit people you see shuffling along. Remember, those same people were once children, then young adults, then middle aged, and are now old. It is one of the few universal justices, or perhaps injustices, that we all age, and, regardless of our wealth, or efforts at fitness, or drugs or cosmetic surgery, we eventually look old, and suffer from the failures of aging.
Because children are cute and cuddly, it is often easy to overlook the irritations that they provoke. Older people have no such warm and fuzzy shield. Before you have contempt for their shuffling gate and rheumy eyes, look into the mirror, and know that you will, if you’re lucky, become old. Often this realization is, in fact, what scares us, as we don’t like what we see when we look into the future of aging, and we hope that there is still great distance between us and them. But with every passing hour of the day, with every dawn, that distance grows shorter. We are them, and they are us.
So proceed gently, as a gentleman always defers to weakness, so he defers to the infirmities of old age. Most importantly, he grants to older people, what all people desire, the recognition that despite any infirmities, they are viable people with things to contribute, and a history of experience in the world. Older people are not invisible; they are survivors of youth and, in some cases at least, repositories of wisdom derived from a long life of victories and defeats. Someone with a dull face and sagging body may still have a lively mind and sharp wit; just as those with youth, and great physical beauty may be dull and intellectually empty.
Don’t be patronizing; neither children nor adults appreciate it. Just as a great runner may look tired and exhausted after completing a marathon, realize that the older person has run a long race – and may yet surprise you, by sprinting to the end.