By Keith Davis
They sit on park benches catching a few rays, and we walk straight past them. They lounge on benches in our shopping malls, and we walk straight past them. They fumble their cards a bit at the ATM, and we sigh with impatience, and then walk straight past them. We treat them as though they do not exist.
And who are these invisible ghosts who we consign to the back alleys of our visual and emotional landscapes? Who are these people that we avert our eyes from, and from whom we with-hold the warmth of human contact. They are our old, our elderly, our doddery, and our frail. Many of them are welfare recipients. They are our old people.
And they carry around, within them, this amazingly rich repository of human experience, and we walk straight past it. Once they were children, once they were lovers, once they were activists, once they were workers or employers, once they were vital contributors to the vibrancy of Australian life, once they were perfection and imperfection rolled into one.
Perhaps they fought in Vietnam, or fought against our fight in Vietnam. Perhaps they experienced free-love and opened their consciousness to the beauty of the Age of Aquarius, or perhaps they had reasons for not doing that. Perhaps they demonstrated against the madness of nuclear proliferation and mutual assured destruction, or the scourge of Apartheid, or perhaps they did other things.
They certainly talked and loved; they certainly drank far too much red wine, and said many wonderful and silly inane things; they certainly enjoyed the sheer joy of friendships; they certainly wanted to make the world a better place for their children; they certainly also cried and grieved, and learnt to live with loss, or not.
And so we ignore them, we walk straight past them, and we consign them to the soullessness of sterile blue-walled rooms in nursing homes, and the hardness of isolated park benches.
Only a blip of time separates us from our old people, and soon enough we will be them, and sitting alone in those parks, and left sitting un-visited in our nursing homes.
So let’s engage them, let’s talk with them, let’s share in the richness of their human experience before their fading away becomes irretrievably permanent.
Open your eyes, open your heart, and never again walk straight past them!