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Mon December 8, 2003
Who Will Push My Cart?
A recent observation vaulted Catherine into the future.
By Catherine McCall
Wilmington NC – [CLick the LISTEN button to hear Catherine's commentary.]
Who will push my cart when I am wrinkled and unsteady, when I lean against a walker as it bumps through the vegetable section? Who will stand at the helm of a cavernous grocery cart while I talk to the broccoli?
Will she listen, this mystery person, or pretend to, while I turn a red pepper round and round in my hand? Will my mumbling embarrass her? Will my slowness infuriate her?
Today at the store I saw myself in forty or fifty years, a stooped me chattering away to the snow peas and bok choy. The elderly woman seemed giddy from the color and fragrance of the fruits, or perhaps the smile was that of a woman who spends too much time away from the ordinary things she once took for granted and now misses dearly.
I can?t know of course, about this woman, only what I saw, which was a pink scalp beneath the white straw hair. I saw an animated woman shopping with an apparent sense of purpose.
Her tall frame curved at the shoulders, and her long feet were covered by slip-on house shoes. I saw her eyes scan the rows, and her long, trembling fingers lift a single head of lettuce then put it carefully back.
She talked, though I wasn?t quite sure to whom. The younger woman standing beside her, who was by no means young, seemed less enthralled by the afternoon activity. No wonder. Her charge was to steer the empty main basket while not getting too far off course from the lady with the walker?her assignment for the day, for the week, or heck, maybe forever. Doubtful there, given the lack of meaningful exchange passing between them?the lack of warmth and enthusiasm on the part of the care worker.
I may judge too harshly?maybe she?d worked all night or hadn?t rested well. She leaned against the buggy as if her feet throbbed and I couldn?t help but wonder if she saw only futility here, and a snail-paced hour or two inching through the aisles ahead of her. Will my companion, if I have one, be so utterly bored too, standing on legs too heavy to be used for such idleness?
Perhaps these two women had an understanding, or preferred sharing their laughs in private?I doubt it. It was a professional relationship, a so-called ?assistance with daily care? sort of thing, and it nudged my thoughts into the future.
With no children of my own, I can?t count on a daughter or son to give me a lift to the grocery store. Even if I had kids, who by the time I am 90 would likely be arthritic in the knees themselves, it would be presumptuous to expect them to wander through the crackers with me.
What will it feel like to be someone?s assignment? By then will I so completely not care about what other people think of me that I will drop ever more fully into the moment and, like the white-haired woman, take pleasure in fingering the lettuce, in smelling the fresh carrots, in greeting them as one welcomes old friends?
We will all get old, if we don?t die first, that is the simple fact of how life goes.
Yet, when my teeth are gone and my shoulders refuse to square, will there be anyone beside me to offer an arm, anyone to push my shopping cart? If I pay her enough will she look past what we?ve both learned to fear?the mottled skin, the tinny voice, the slow-motion movements?will she really look until she sees me, and then will she smile at me anyway?
Catherine McCall is a psychiatrist who lives in Wilmington.