Annals of Long-Term Care: Clinical Care and Aging. 2015;23(4):42
I was recently reminded of a beautiful poem by American poet David L. Griffith that I would like to share with you. This thought-provoking and emotional poem is a plea by the poet to value the older person and his or her many life experiences. It is a journey told through the eyes of a senior citizen residing in a long-term care facility. Over the years since starting out in geriatric practice, I have enjoyed hearing about the lives of my older patients. They have taught me much, not only about medicine but also about life. I learned from World War I veterans about life in the trenches in some far off land with poison gas rising in a cloud above, leaving them with many years of respiratory problems and haunting memories but, more importantly, a feeling of accomplishment and dedication to their country. I learned from concentration camp survivors about their suffering and the importance of the will to survive. I have enjoyed hearing stories about many colorful careers, proud parenthood, and amazing places I have never been. As time passes, we all have stories to tell, for we are all a composite of our lifetime experiences, a story in evolution. For those who choose to listen, there is much to learn from our elders. They are indeed more than what appears on the surface. They have stories to tell, lives to be remembered, and, hopefully, new stories to be written. Let us pay homage to their life experiences and contributions.
Too Soon Old © by David L. Griffith
What do you see, my friends, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old man, one not very wise, uncertain of habit, with far away eyes.
Who dribbles his food and makes no reply...when you say in a loud voice, “I wish you’d try?”
Who seems not to notice the things that you do, and forever is losing a sock or shoe.
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will...with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking?
Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, my friends, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still, as I live at your bidding, as I enjoy company at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother, brothers and sisters, who love one another.
A young boy of sixteen, a football in his hands and with wings on his feet, dreaming that soon now a lover he’ll meet.
A marine soon at eighteen—my heart gives a leap, remembering the oath that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have a platoon of my own, who need me to guide them and secure a trip home.
A man of thirty, my youth now going too fast, hopefully bound to others with ties that should last.
At fifty my daughter and sons have grown and are gone, and I have no one beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At sixty no more babies play round my knee, again I know heartbreak, my loneliness and me.
Dark days are upon me, my dreams are all dead; I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own, and I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man and nature is cruel; ‘tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart, there is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young man still dwells, and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain, and I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years; all too few.
Gone too fast, and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, my friends, open and see, not a crabby old man; look closer—see me.
Dr. Gambert is professor of medicine and director of the division of gerontology and geriatric medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Special thanks to David L. Griffith for his permission to reprint Too Soon Old © (bit.ly/19TTIvB).