It’s a Saturday morning. I go to the bank to hear face-to-face why fees are changing on various accounts and the options I have (thank you, outgoing congressmen Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank, for reforming the regulations so I can pay more financial fees).
The process is simple – sign in, wait for a bank representative, and then talk. This morning, the wait is short, only a couple of minutes, but while I’m waiting I see an elderly man come in assisting his even more elderly father, who needs to talk to a representative like I do. The son is clearly older than I am; I guess the father’s age at early 90s. He’s ambulatory, but with a metal walker and moving very, very slowly.
My name is called, I sit in an open desk area with the bank’s representative, who might be as old as 30 but I doubt it. Mid-20s is more like it. He’s very polite. We both then see the older man being called and him and his son moving slowly to another representative’s desk.
My representative watches this for a few seconds, and then a smile that’s almost a smirk appears on his face. Inwardly, I bristle. I know what you’re thinking, I say to myself. You’re thrilled that somebody else got the old man.
And then everything changes.
As if guessing my thoughts, the young man looks at me and says, “I work part-time at the retirement home across the street. That older man there, he lives there. I talk with him all the time. You look at him and think he’s a doddering old geezer. In fact, he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Sharp. Mind like a steel trap. Up-to-date on the news, and he can debate anybody. He’s a great guy.”
“There’s a lesson here,” I say. “Appearances are deceiving. And we see age and we think old and not too bright.”
“I don’t know anyone smarter than he is,” the young man replies. “My colleague is in for a big surprise.”
There’s more than one lesson here. One is certainly how we as a culture can see someone old and think “useless,” “not-too-bright,” and “occupies space.” We get impatient with them. Because they might move slowly we believe they think slowly, if at all.
A second lesson was for me. I made an assumption about the young man’s smile, and it was flat-out wrong. He was smirking, all right, but it was at the thought of his colleague being in for a rude awakening. He suspected his colleague was going to treat the man like “an elderly person,” and would learn that he might be an elderly person but he could run circles around any representative the bank might throw at him.
A third thing I learned was also about the young man helping me. As it turned out, he didn’t work part-time at the retirement home. He was a volunteer. He was being modest to say he worked there part-time. And I bet he’s a welcome volunteer, particularly by that elderly man with the walker.
Appearances can deceive – at both ends of the age spectrum.
I grew a little that Saturday.