I watch them, men and women in their 80’s and 90’s, shuffling by me using walkers, smiling and nodding heads at each other as they pass in the hallway, sometimes stopping to have a prolonged exchanges in crackly voices. The lobby area where I am is spotlessly clean and the lights bright. Most of the women moving past me are wearing cheerful colors; the men look a little more casual than the women. There are fewer men than women.
The facility I am visiting houses around 80 people, when full; there are 72 people living here currently. The staff are mostly in their twenties, and they are helpful, friendly, and gentle. I am in the lobby while waiting to go back into the room to see the person I’m visiting, who is currently bathing. It’s 9:00 in the morning.
I close my eyes, and imagine that it is 60 years ago, when the residents here were the age that most of the staff is now. For whatever reason, I imagine we are all at a train station: people are looking at tickets and gates and the clock overhead, suddenly dashing off for another platform. I see the same brightly colored clothing on a younger group of women; the tremendous care women put into hair in those days in full evidence. The men are younger, too; some in military uniforms, some arrayed as workers or college students. Some are wrapped up in their own concerns, others, in groups, are chatting to each other merrily.
The though strikes me, as it often does, that one of the great things about history is that all of us share it, albeit not in the way we might typically think. The way I am talking about is this: at any point in history we could study, both you and I had ancestors alive at that exact moment. Could be 1960, or 1800, or 1200, or 5,000 BC. All of us are part of chains stretching back to then.
So, as sure as that thought occurs to me, I see my parents on the platform, with my brother and sister in tow (I was born a little later). My dad is talking to another man wearing an air force pilot’s uniform. My mom is laughing with a knot of women nearby. My brother and sister, 3 and 5 years old, respectively, are hanging by her side.
There’s music playing, “My Heart Has A Mind of Its Own” by Connie Francis. There’s that distinctive reverberating sound when music is played in a cavernous place like a train station, but the music isn’t too loud. One of the women I saw earlier is running down the platform to meet a man wearing a uniform, who is just getting off of a train. They embrace passionately.
I turn back to get another glimpse of my parents and siblings, but they’ve gone on a ways to another platform. However, in that same direction, one of the men is carrying flowers, and looking forlornly at a train that just pulled out. Apparently, whoever he was waiting for didn’t show.
I open my eyes back into the lobby of facility I’m visiting. That same man, 60 years older, standing with a walker, is looking back at a woman in a wheelchair who is coming up to join him. They are both smiling.
Life is a fountain, a glorious dancing,
Flowing and swirling wherever it goes;
All of us, one, in the tide of our fortunes
Headed for fates that there’s no mortal knows
Life is a fountain: contained, but in movement,
Glints on the water that shine, then are gone:
All of us share in the cycle of seasons,
One part may end, but the fountain