Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yellow car syndrome

Someone came up with this funny phrase to describe a sudden hyper-awareness of something that you really hadn't much noticed before. For example, you buy a yellow car—and then, over and over, you are amazed at how many other people drive yellow vehicles, too. (We here in our home call it the "super-old Chevy Cavalier station wagon" syndrome... Or, we would call it that if we ever saw any other old Chevy wagons...)

I'm experiencing the yellow car syndrome myself these days; in the past few months, I've become extremely sensitive to the aging, frail population around me. I had already known that Pittsburgh was way up there on the list of cities with unusually high numbers of oldsters; I remember fretting about it in my single days. Yet suddenly, everywhere I look, I am visually accosted by the elderly, many of them struggling to complete simple daily tasks.

Now, I realize that this is partly because I have free time during weekday mornings in which to run errands, do shopping, and complete other household tasks. Of course I'm going to see more retired and infirm people then. (Weekends, on the other hand, are the time when you are inundated with babies and toddlers being dragged from place to place.) But my awareness isn't just age-related—it goes deeper. I am noticing crippled and gnarled fingers, bent-over spines, and people with walkers and canes. I even find myself counting the walkers, noting without trying just how many people around me require walking assistance. I am frequently arrested by just how many of the handicapped spaces are taken—sometimes all of them. Without trying, I notice a delicate white-haired lady at the grocery, trying desperately, with swollen, bent fingers, to open the clear plastic bag in which to put her produce. (Yes, I helped her.) It seems that everywhere, overnight, people have begun moving slowly, painstakingly, with difficulty.

And it's not just the older folks. I am suddenly, by way of association, aware of young people with physical limitations,too. We know a few people who have ongoing physical conditions, and now I find myself making note of similar symptoms and movements that would indicate that same or a related condition. I recognize the expression of pain on someone's face, the stiffness of joints that necessitates careful, gradual movements.

I'm sure my heightened sensitivity is related to my mother's failing health. I'm equally certain that my own advancing age, well into middle years at this point, might also be bringing home the point that these bodies of ours aren't meant to last forever. They are weak, and breakable. They can mend themselves in our youth and well beyond. But then? Those so-called golden years? Nature demands that we begin to deteriorate.

The most heartbreaking scene for me lately was a perky older woman pushing a younger lady in a wheelchair through Michaels craft store. There I was, inwardly kvetching about the traffic, and how I wasn't getting everything done that I'd hope to do, and how the sun wasn't out, grouch, groan. At that moment, the woman rolled her wheelchair-bound companion slowly past me, talking gently as she went. She reached for something on the shelf for her friend, placed it in her lap, and the recipient offered a barely audible, hardly decipherable word of thanks. I noticed how lovingly the elder woman responded, the kindness in her voice, the unhurried way she helped the other. I felt very small, and spoiled, and shallow.

It is good to be aware of this sort of thing. Good, because I can act when I see a need. Good, because I will appreciate my health, my body that still mostly does what I ask it to do. Good, because God has opened my eyes. I pray I will remember to be His hands to this growing number of opportunities. I hope I will remember to be thankful, and to act with gladness and obedience. Any of the folks I've been noticing could be, likely will be, me.

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