One afternoon I stopped by the bank to make a few deposits. I was in a rush and needed to get in and out as soon as possible. I had places to go and things I had to do. I picked the worst possible time of day and the worst day of the week to do my banking. But I had been out of town and needed to catch up on errands before the weekend began.
There was only one teller working and the line was about fifteen people deep. After waiting patiently, I got close to the front of the line. Looking back at the dozen or so people who had entered the line after me, I was relieved that the wait was almost over. Unfortunately, the elderly woman who was making a deposit was requiring a lot more assistance than the others who had gone before her.
She must have been 85 years old. She held a cane in one hand and wore a thick pair of glasses that were visible only after she peeled away her sunglasses. They were the kind of sunglasses that fit over her regular glasses and were big enough to block harmful rays from even the nastiest of solar eclipses. They were the kind that retirees used to wear to watch shuttle launches in south Florida. The kind people older people wear when they are consumed by practicality and no longer care as much about fashion.
When she was finally finished with her transaction, she started to make small talk with the teller behind the counter. She did not seem to notice that there were so many people in line behind her. The teller smiled and nodded at everything she said. The old lady told her she reminded her of her daughter. Then she asked the teller whether she had children. She just kept making conversation while the young woman behind the counter provided her with full and undivided attention. She seemed to feel sorry for her. It was as if she appreciated sitting where she was rather than occupying the elderly woman’s shoes.
But there was a younger man in the line who did not feel the same sympathy for the old woman. He glared impatiently at the teller as if to say that she should tell the elderly woman she was holding up the line. He even held out one of his hands and waved at the teller. He was signaling that he had been waiting long enough and that it was time his needs were met. But the teller kept nodding politely and giving the elderly woman her undivided attention.
Someone should have said something to the younger man who was so impatient. He should have understood why the elderly woman was clinging on to the conversation with the young teller. It was probably more than a reminder of her children. More likely, it was a reminder that she had not seen them or talked to them in quite some time.
As soon as she finished talking to the teller, the elderly woman walked out of the bank and headed across the parking lot towards her car. She was walking slowly and labored with every step as she leaned upon her cane for support. She had no one to help her. No husband. No son. No daughter. There was nothing to lean on but a cane.
The younger man who had been so impatient with her needed to hear my pastor talk about the time our church went caroling at the old folks’ home about a year and a half ago. He needed to hear the stories of the elderly people whose lives had been enriched by hearing songs sung to them by people who had never met them before. He needed to hear that elderly people are a treasure and not an inconvenience.
Of course, my pastor was not there to tell him. But I was in the bank that day. In case you haven’t figured it out, the impatient man in the line was me.
I should have dropped what I was doing and given the woman a hand as she made her way across the parking lot. I should have made plans to go back to the retirement home to spend a few hours of visitation. Like you, I probably won’t make it back until Christmas. I have places to go and things I have to do.