“Et Al” by Benjamin Gotchel
I’ve always loved old couples. There’s something deeply expressed – a testament of love and companionship – when a pair of octogenarians wobble down a sidewalk together with their fingers entwined like the roots of an ancient oak. The underlying rationalization behind this fondness of mine had not been made clear to me until a hot day in the middle of last June.
As receptionist for an eye doctor’s office, I was fortunate enough to encounter elderly couples on a daily basis (read: old people have bad eyes). One such couple – a man and a wife in their mid-80’s – approached my desk. Soon I had them signing and dating paperwork. A few minutes passed, and then the wife turned to me.
“Dear, what day is it, love?” She was very sweet.
I told her the day and she thanked me profusely and returned to the form in front of her. Only a few seconds passed before she turned to me again.
“What month is it, honey?”
I smiled at the odd question and told her the month. She flashed me a grin and turned back. I resumed organizing their files, but was soon interrupted.
“What year is it?”
I blinked, then answered, taking care at the end to repeat the full date. An expression of gratitude washed over her face, so sincere that for a moment I was taken aback.
She then returned to her papers, on to the next page. Less than a minute passed and she turns back again – this time to her husband.
“Excuse me, sweetheart, what day is it?”
Her husband, to this point diligently working on his papers, put down his pen and quietly informed her of the day. She thanked him, softly laying her hand upon his for a fleeting moment before turning back.
Seconds later, she asked for the month – and finally,
“What year is it, my darling?”
Her husband told her the year. He then turned to me, apparently feeling as if an explanation was owed. Looking over his glasses over me, he gruffly intoned, “She has dementia.”
Satisfied with his contribution, he finished his papers and sat down with his wife. On the way to their seats, his wife hooked her finger through his belt-loop, like a baby elephant.
It was then that the fullness of the situation struck me. Without her husband, this woman would likely be heavily medicated in a nursing home with a nurse wiping drool off her chin. But because of her husband, she’s able to function as a normal member of society. I learned later that he also suffered from a milder form of the same syndrome, which only served to drive the point home deeper. They are entirely co-dependent.
This is a dramatic scenario, but it represents a certain ubiquitous truth: we need each other. Maybe this truth is not always as stark as it was with the lovely couple I encountered that day, but it’s a truth nonetheless.
I love old couples because their mere existence is boldly indicative of the human need for companionship. Without each other they live half a life, are half a person. They are the perfect manifestation of what is hardwired into all of us: an essential and humbling dependency, designed by a Grand Architect, on the people who surround us.
I believe that coming to terms with this can help us acknowledge a new perspective on ourselves and how we value those who surround us.
What are some ways you can think of that you are or have been dependent on other people? I’ll bet there are more than you think.
* Benjamin Gotchel is a good friend of mine who attends Kings University and strives to love people fully in all he does. *