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Saturday, March 26 2016 16:13

Leaving the gym, I was walking down a flight of stairs to the sidewalk.  A few steps showed traces of snow and ice. I was gripping the banister tightly.  I had almost reached the bottom when I heard a young woman speak.

            “Do you want some help?” she asked.

            “No, thank you,” I quickly answered, and she continued on her way.  I never saw her face.  Later, I would regret the abruptness of my answer.

            I was not really in need of help, since I had almost navigated the stairs, but the offer of assistance made me happy. As I ambled along a snow-free sidewalk, I continued to think about my anonymous benefactor.

            From what I could see of her, I judged that she was a college student. She, like me had just been exercising at the athletic center. Perhaps she had been swimming like me; or perhaps she had been using one of the workout machines.

            Her readiness to help impressed me deeply. She did not know me at all, nor is it likely that she recognized me from the gym. She may have been in a hurry to get to a class or appointment, but that does not necessarily call for intervention.  Many, if not most, walkers stay absorbed in their own interests or concerns.

            In this era, many young people often seem to be moving through a private world, listening to music or talking to invisible friends.  I don’t like this lack of awareness or interaction; but in places where students gather, I’m now in the minority.

            So this young woman’s alertness is appreciated and could have been needed.  Old people do fall. In fact, among people over 65, about one-third do so each year.

            I wonder where my mysterious friend comes from.  Did she grow up with parents who taught her to respect older people? Is she close to her grandparents? Or - - an increasingly common situation these days - - has she been influenced by great-grandparents? Has she worked part time in a hospital or nursing home? Has she been accustomed to encountering elders in her neighborhood?

            I suspect she has someone who has learned to care about the elder people in her life. Perhaps, I imagine wildly, she has chosen a field of studies that will allow her to help elders. (I am always on the lookout for future gerontologists.)

            In any case, I was delighted by her helpfulness.  As I have indicated, our culture does not always provide empathetic support to the older generation.

At my late physical changes, I have come to realize how difficult it can be to get around. I am handicapped by a weak left arm - - a lifelong condition -  - and by an arthritic right knee.

            My case is not at all unusual.  Many older people face similar problems. They - - or rather we - - can be seen as we make our way over uneven sidewalks and slowly cross at busy intersections.

            Would that in my own college days I had been able to visualize my future self. I wish I had shown the same active sympathy as my young friend. I did not know how to reach out to others. I felt myself incapable of helping them.

            l like to think I have learned to be helpful, although that help often takes a form very agreeable to me.  I love talking with young people, and especially listening to them talk about their interests and their hopes.

Perhaps some day I’ll even get to talk with that kind young woman.  Maybe she really is planning to be a gerontologist.