The other day I posted a book review that included a condemnation of our tendency to judge people without knowing their background story. In fact, my entire blog is a form of judgement. I did it again this week, at the grocery store. I’ll give you the details and let you be the judge.
It’s harvest season in Ontario, the season for juicy, fresh beefsteak tomatoes, peaches and no end of wonderful local produce. Shoppers are checking out with bushels of Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and fruit for preserving. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for fresh food.
As I was standing in the produce section husking corn into a giant bin in the middle of the floor, a small, very elderly, very frail gentleman approached. He was probably in his nineties and his face was sweet and kind looking. His grocery tote was a hand truck he’d brought with him with a single reuseable vinyl grocery bag propped open on the base. He was wearing worn, comfortable shoes and socks, a short-sleeved plaid shirt and beige shorts. His shorts were held up with striped suspenders and where one of the suspender’s clips was broken, he’d used a bit of twine to tie the suspenders to the belt loop of his shorts. This simple piece of twine touched my heart as it reminded me of how resourceful and practical his generation is—those who grew up in the Depression—so different from the obscene consumerism of subsequent generations.
For a few minutes I was transfixed as I watched this stooped gentleman pick three ears of corn and place them in his vinyl shopping bag. An Asian woman standing nearby helped him dig through the bin to find some nice ones. All of a sudden I found myself contemplating his entire back story in my imagination. Where did he live? Did he live alone? Did he drive himself here? Did he walk, pushing his hand truck? How does he manage in winter? Particularly in a large city it’s so easy for these vulnerable people to be forgotten.
Because he was buying groceries, he obviously does not live in an assisted living facility. Perhaps he lives in a nearby apartment or maybe he’s still living in the same little bungalow he bought in the 1950s and is unwilling to leave. Does he have children? Do they visit him and help him out? Is his wife still alive or did she pass a few years ago? Is he lonely? Does he need help? So many questions swirled around in my head for the few minutes I observed him.
I found myself thinking of my own father who is 92 and lives in the most wonderful assisted living residence I could imagine. He’s happy, healthy, well taken care of, still drives and is mentally as sharp as ever. His residence overlooks the Trent Canal in front and Ranney Falls on the Trent River behind the building. It’s an idyllic environment and he’s surrounded by kind, caring people and fellow residents he’s known for decades.
My dilemma concerns my judgement of the elderly man in the grocery store. My initial reaction to seeing this man was sadness. I found myself wishing he could be living carefree in a residence like my father’s. Then, he wouldn’t have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning or even getting his clothes mended. But perhaps I’m wrong to cast judgement. Maybe he’s living the life he chooses, independent and busy with the simple rituals and routines of daily life. Perhaps my concern is misplaced and he’s happily living his best life. I wonder if and how my husband I will be coping when we’re in our nineties—which isn’t that far off anymore, and if we make it that far. Once again I found myself casting judgement on someone I knew nothing about, however, sympathetic my intentions. I’m still thinking about him, days later. I can’t get him out of my mind, wondering how he’s doing. Is he OK? Are they all OK?