How Are You?

I saw my neighbor, Rose, walking to her mailbox and hurried to catch up with her. Rose and I were "friendly" but not "friends." We didn't visit each other but we'd talk a few minutes if we met at the mailbox.

"Hi, Rose. I haven't seen you for a while. How are you?" I asked.

When you ask people how they are, they usually say, "I'm fine."

Except that isn't what she said.

"My hair is getting thin. My eyes are bad, and I need new glasses but I can't afford them. My hearing is getting bad, but I don't want hearing aids and can't afford them anyway. I have to have all my upper teeth pulled and get dentures. I'm living on soup and eggs because it hurts to chew. I have Type 2 diabetes and have to take pills. I have bad chest pains and might have a bad heart. I get winded walking to the mailbox. I get stomachaches. My ankles are swollen and I barely have any feeling in my feet. I have trouble sleeping and have to get up at least once a night to use the bathroom," she said.

I hadn't expected to hear any of that. I'd expected her to say she was "fine."

I didn't know what to say.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"Old age is no fun. If I'd died when I was 60, I was in good health. I waited too long to die," Rose said.

Again, I didn't know what to say.

"People would miss you," I said.

"No, they wouldn't. Nobody visits me; nobody calls me. I haven't had a visitor since Christmas. My children ignore me. The only people I spend time with are my dentist and my doctor," she said.

Now I felt guilty for not visiting her.

"Would you like to come home with me and have coffee and talk awhile?" I asked.

"No, it's too far to walk," she said. "There is only one cure for old age, and that is dying. Not even God himself can make me a day younger."

"Is there anything I can do? Do you need me to run errands, buy groceries, drive you someplace?" I asked.

"I have my groceries delivered, and I take the old people's van to my dentist and doctor," she said.

"Well, if you do need anything, call me anytime, even if you just want to talk," I said.

She reached into her mailbox and pulled out her phone bill and an advertisement from a funeral home and a coupon for a ten percent discount on a cruise to Alaska.

I opened my mailbox, and I'd received the same mail, my phone bill, an ad from a funeral home and a coupon for a cruise to Alaska.

I showed her my mail and she smiled.

I reminded her to call me and promised myself I'd call her once a week.

Then I walked home and realized I'm two years older than Rose, and everything she is struggling with might be in my near future.

And I'm not "fine" with that.

"Grow old along with me . . . the best is yet to be," Robert Browning wrote in 1864. It is comforting to believe our old age will be the best years of our lives. We picture ourselves as financially secure, happy in our homes, visited by our grandchildren and in good health.

Modern medicine has allowed us to live nearly twice as long as people lived in the 1890s. Rose could live another 20 years but she is not enjoying life.

Although the average life span is about 77 years, many people will live longer than that. We can't plan to be happy "someday," we have to work on being happy "today," because no one is promised tomorrow.

Later that day I went to the store to buy groceries. The store has a huge section of beautiful flower bouquets. I always enjoy seeing the colorful flowers and smelling the fragrance as I push my cart through it. I love flowers, but I don't live where I can have a garden. I decided to buy a bouquet of flowers for Rose to cheer her up. Then I realized I hadn't received flowers from anyone for over 30 years. Thirty years without a bouquet of flowers.

I'd been waiting for someone else to give me a bouquet of flowers, a friend, my children, my grandchildren. It never crossed my mind to give myself flowers.

I bought two bouquets of flowers, one for Rose and one for myself and vowed that once a month when I bought groceries, I'd buy flowers for myself.

For years I'd deprived myself of a bouquet of flowers, waiting for someone else to give them to me when all along, I could have given them to myself. I could have enjoyed the beauty and color and fragrance of flowers. It wasn't the duty of someone else to "make me happy", it was my duty to make myself happy.

I would no longer deprive myself of flowers or of my favorite foods, saving them for holidays or special occasions. It's OK to eat ice cream for breakfast.

It's OK to buy flowers for yourself.

Crying Wind is the author of Crying Wind and My Searching Heart, When the Stars Danced, and Thunder in Our Hearts, Lightning in Our Veins.

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