Tuesday 23 July 2019

What sort of society is it that has no time for the weak and old?

It's an endearing characteristic or quality to be kind and respectful to elderly people. It's inspiring when we see it in action and most disillusioning when we see elderly people being brushed aside.

Patrick is a priest. He was home on holidays in August and last Wednesday he returned to Kenya where he has been working most of his priestly life.

The day before his departure the two of us went out for lunch. I think he was a little sad or lonely leaving Ireland. We were chatting away over lunch. The daily newspapers were on the table at which we were sitting. Among the papers was The Irish Examiner.

Half way through our lunch an elderly man approached us. At first I presumed that he knew Patrick. Or maybe he had been listening to our conversation and knew the people about whom we were talking. After all Ireland is a small place.

No, it was none of those things. He had spotted The Irish Examiner on the table and he began to tell Patrick that he had connections with Cork and knew people who always read the paper. I think Patrick read the situation immediately. Whether he did or not, he was terribly kind to the elderly man.

The two of them were chatting away for a few minutes when a woman appeared and suggested to the man that he come back to his table and finish his lunch. She was brusque with him. It was clear the woman was a little embarrassed, maybe annoyed with the man. But what impressed me most of all was how Patrick engaged with the man and simply how he enjoyed talking to him.

Just the previous evening, Mary, a friend of mine told me an horrific story. She was travelling by bus from Dublin. While waiting for her bus she noticed an old man beside her. He was having difficulty getting up from his seat to board the bus so she helped him.

And as she was linking him to the bus she suddenly felt he was losing his footing. Then she realised he was either having a stroke or a heart attack. She called for help and not a single person came to her aid. Eventually, someone stopped and helped and an ambulance was called.

Mary could not believe how people were so disinterested in the plight of the old man. 'Woman and men, young and old just passed. They saw what was happening but they did nothing. I could not believe my eyes,' she said. The experience really shocked her.

Both those incidents brought back to mind for me how worried I was when my father was out and about in his late 80s, early 90s. I was always scared that anything could happen.

He was very fortunate. As far as I know he only once had a bad experience, which was indeed horrible but he got over it. Dad would always tell me when people were helpful and kind and it meant so much to him.

It's one of the hallmarks of any society as to how well it looks after those who are old, fragile and feeble.

There's not much to commend about any society or person who has no time for those who are weak and old.

But it is extraordinarily uplifting and edifying to see people being helpful and kind to those who have difficulty getting about.

Watching Patrick talk to that man in the restaurant and listening to Mary's concern for the old man getting on the bus did me good. I hope I'll heed them.

What goes around comes around.

New Ross Standard