I love Desiderata. I have always loved Desiderata. If you grew up in Kenya during the 80s or 90s, you probably know Desiderata lines by heart. A framed copy of the famous poem, originally written by an American author Max Ehrmann in 1927, occupied a place of honor in many homes. I have a copy of it in my office. The wisdom in each verse is timeless. One of the lines reads: “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth”.
I visited my eye doctor a couple of weeks ago. To me, any doctor specializing with eyes is an eye doctor, I could never pronounce the Ops – Optometrist, Ophthalmologist and Optician. Ok, I can pronounce the last one, but I have no idea how each of these is different from the other. I just know they fix eye problems – collectively and/or individually.
There were five patients waiting at the reception. Four of them were
seated on one side of the room with chairs lined against the wall. One, a young man perhaps in his early-twenties, was seated on the opposite side of the room. I took an empty chair next to the young man. Matthew – I learnt his name when they called him into the doctor’s office- had that perfect nerdy look of an engineering college student. He was busy on his iPhone.
The folks across the room were all much older, or so they looked to me. May be all retired. It was as if someone had said all the seniors to please take seats on the right. The woman sitting directly across from me is perhaps the youngest of the four. I would put her in the early sixties, if I had to guess. She is impeccably dressed, in white pants with a crease, and a soft pink flowered denim jack worn over a soft pink shirt. Her feet in soft leather tan loafers are crossed in front of her. She is picking on her nails, or cuticles, with what looks like a pair of tweezers. That’s the thing with being an older person: you can get away with working on your nails at a doctor’s waiting room. She is wearing glasses, like everyone else in the room, except Matthew. And me. I guess younger people do not have the usual eye afflictions of the older folks.
Then it hit me! This was not my annual eye wellness appointment with the doctor. I am here because all of a sudden, I am holding books the same way my father and buddies in the Presbyterian Church Men Fellowship used to hold their hymn books – two feet away. Back then, I thought it was just a Presbyterian thing, a posture that complemented the checked brown Raymond suit, worn over a grey button-up sweater, white shirt and striped tie. But here I am, holding a book at arm’s length and squinting.
So is this how it starts? One day you are young, and then boom, without warning, you are aged? No transition. Nothing in between. Young to ancient. Exactly how and when does youth leave? Does it slip slowly like fine sand through fingers, or does it elope in the night like a love-struck girl whose parents won’t let her go just yet? And when does ‘old’ take residence? Is it like the squatters who occupy your property, and whom you ignore because they are harmless, only for them to claim and take ownership several years later? Do they, youth and age, work in tandem like two conspirators?
An Assistant clutching a clipboard calls out for Rose, then walks to one of the patients seated across the room. I stand up and walk up to her.
“You called for Rose”
“Yes I did”
“I am Rose”
“What’s your last name?”
I tell her. Turns out that the patient she is talking to is also Rose. She is a lot older, probably in her nineties. She is using a walker and requires assistance standing up.
I get back to my seat and wait. I am feeling very old now. It finally my turn and on my way in, I pass by Rose 90-Something. The Assistant is helping her to the doctor’s office. Rose is protesting, saying she does not want to be in a closed room. She wants to be seen in an open area. My goodness. Is that what growing old does to you? You become afraid of closed doors? I wanted to stop and reassure her – that it was ok. There was nothing to fear behind the closed door. But how do I know? May be the posters they have in doctors’ offices are scary when you are ninety-something.
When my turn comes, they take some photos – of my eyes, not me- and run some read-the-last-line tests. When the doctor is done, he says what I had suspected all along: I needed glasses. He writes a prescription for progressive lenses.
“Are those not basically bifocals?” I ask
“They will do the same thing but they are great when transitioning from viewing things that are afar off to things that are closer”
“I feel very old”, I say, still reflecting on that bummer moment at the reception, and looking for words of consolation.
“Welcome to the party. You a few years late, as a matter of fact”
Talk of kicking a woman when she is down!
I thank him anyways, pick up the prescription and leave. On my way out I take a look at the side of the reception where the ‘older’ folks were seated. There was no one now. It is almost as if they had made room for me.
Apparently that line in Desiderata –gracefully surrendering the things of youth – those things include good eyesight! I have checked that box and moved on.
I wonder if I am already getting late for the next party!3