I was working in the hardware store the other day when a fragile gentleman entered the place. He was older than me and probably well into his 70s. He was by himself and wore a long blue overcoat. I noticed that he was moving slowly and suffering from kyphosis.
I was already on the floor assisting another customer so he was helped by one of my coworkers.
One of the things I notice about working at the hardware store is the number of older people that come in with things they’re repairing or replacing in their homes.
At 60 years old, I think about my own retirement in a few years when I see these folks. I always think about how I probably won’t worry about these sorts of things when I’m older. (I don’t worry about them now!) I ask myself why would these older people waste their time worrying about all of these small items and fixes in their homes? Shouldn’t they just be enjoying life and their retirement? Shouldn’t they be embracing their twilight years instead of worrying about lightbulbs, caulk, paint, stain, and other small projects?
I don’t get it. I picture myself in old age, building little plastic car models and giving them as gifts to friends. Playing my guitar and writing songs, and maybe jamming with a few other old geezers. Maybe renting a car and going on cool road trips around the country. Writing new stories for my blog and documenting my travels in it. Composing new stories for books I want to publish. Bigger picture, quality of life subjects. Not worrying about a bunch of little fixes around my house.
I mentioned this to my older sister and she gave me a good explanation. She said that by the older people taking care of all of these little projects and fixes around their homes, they’re keeping themselves busy. Rather than sitting in a chair with nothing to do in their retirement, they were keeping their minds and hands busy with these projects. It was giving them something to do each day. It gave them a reason to get up, get dressed, and go out of the house. It gave them purpose and filled their time. They enjoyed getting out of the house and talking to people and working on their stuff.
It made sense to me and was a solid explanation, but I thought there might be more to it than that. I also thought that maybe these people have gathered wealth, raised their families, completed their time in the workforce, and had nothing else better to do with their lives in retirement. Maybe they weren’t as gifted as I was. A person who could make art, write stories, play a musical instrument, and have a never-ending need to constantly create.
That bit seemed a little selfish and ignorant on my part. I don’t want to be self-absorbed or judge other people. For the most part, the world is filled with simply average people. There are only an extraordinary few. I am barely one of that elite club. I’m a hack at best, born with some natural abilities that are gifts to be shared with others if they’ll appreciate them. They’re only valuable if you don’t squander them.
My sister was right about her assessment of these older folks. That had to be it, and there wasn’t anything else. Just people with too much time on their hands each day who wanted to stay busy. Their friends and family were slowly dying off. Their kids were long raised and off living their own lives. Their time in the workforce has been over for decades. They were living comfortably financially and had no more battles to win.
When I used to go to a place called Rachael’s for breakfast there was an old guy who came in each day. He traveled around with the use of a walker and came in each day and sat in the same seat doing his thing.
I asked the owner at the time what his deal was, and he said that the guy lived in a building upon JFK blvd and came in every day. I thought it seemed like a hassle to have to struggle along with a walker each day to come down to Rachael’s.
He said that the guy came in daily, ordered the same thing, and then sat in his favorite spot and went through his mail and bills. It gave him a reason to get out of the house, be a little social, and just be anywhere but alone in his apartment. It gave his retired life some purpose. It simply kept him going despite his declining health and mobility.
This sounded like what my sister had stated to me when I told her about the senior citizens at the hardware store. So she must be right about that. I mean, I don’t think I’d do that in my old age, but it’s rapidly approaching every year that passes in my life.
Death is inevitable for all of us. Rich or poor, the reaper will come for every one of us. Everybody has to die, but it all depends on how you lived your life while you were here. But what does it all mean? Why do we live and do all of these things, and gather all of this stuff that needs maintenance only to know that we’ll have to leave at some point, and can’t take any of it with us? What’s the point of it all?
Anyway, I finished with my customer in the store and went to help out at the counter. I saw the old man with the bent back chatting with my coworker about a product he was about to purchase.
It was a little four-pack of tiny plastic coasters that are affixed to the bottom of chair legs so they don’t scratch your nice hardwood floors. He had one in his knarled hand that had come out of the leg of one of his chairs. It was a well-worn plastic cap with a rubber washer on a nail. After years of movement, the nail had become loose and slipped out of the chair leg.
The little four-pack had the very same product that he needed, but the man said the nails looked a little too thin. My coworker suggested that maybe he use a bigger screw or place a piece of a toothpick in the existing hole to tighten it up a bit to accommodate the new nail.
I was watching all of this and stated that maybe a dab of wood glue in the hole along with the toothpick shim could secure it. If the replacement ever wore down it would be pretty easy to remove and replace.
But I still thought to myself, why does this guy care what happens to his floor at this stage of his life? Who cares if the floor gets scratched. Doesn’t he have anything better to do? Why is he worried about this small thing at all?
But these thoughts brought me back to what my sister had said, but my thoughts went a bit further. Here’s this old guy trying to fix a chair in his house. He’ll be dead in probably the next 5 to 10 years and that chair will still be standing. He’ll be dead and gone. Disintegrating into nothing in the ground or already turned to ashes by a loved one. He’ll be gone, and this chair he’s trying to fix will still be standing here on earth. What’s the point, man?
Shouldn’t you be doing anything else? Don’t worry about the chair. You should be enjoying the day and feeling the sunshine on your face before it sets for the last time in your life. Enjoy what little time you have left.
But then it hit me.
This old man has spent his life working and fixing things. Being a presence in his spouse and children’s lives. He wants to fix this chair because he knows this chair is going to be around long after he’s gone.
Maybe that’s our purpose in life.
If something’s broken, needs to be fixed, or simply needs help, it’s our mission in life to do something to make it better. To make it whole again, or at the very least to make it feel better.
Maybe we’re here and have our lives not to accumulate wealth, stature, and stuff, but to care and maintain the things and people around us for when we’re no longer here. Doing things that make the world a little better while we’re here so that our existence left some sort of positive mark on the next generation.
It’s not about the chair. It could be another person. It could be a child. Taking the time to try to fix things and make them better is why we’re here. To make life better for the people around us for when we’re long gone.
Like the broken chair, if he works to try to help it stand strong, he knows it’ll serve others better in the future. He’ll be gone, but he’s making sure the things around him are better. The chair will still be standing strong when he can no longer stand.
No matter how old you are, while you’re here you should try to make things around you better because you’re able. Those things and people will still be in the world after you’re gone, and maybe they’ll be better. Which will make the world just a little bit better thanks to you.
You can do this in your daily life. Do right by other people and raise your children correctly. Download all of your good data into their heads. Work out your weaknesses and failures. Become a better person, and work on yourself every day. Help other people who need it.
Because one day you’ll be gone, and the world will go on spinning without you. Do the right things now so the generations of tomorrow can continue to thrive and go forward. Maybe that’s our purpose for being here. We’re all going to die. But we can have a positive effect on those around us to make the world and its people a better place for tomorrow, even though we all have to someday leave the party forever.
Do what you can to make the chairs around you stand strong and steady on their own when you’re long gone. Because that chair could be a friend or a family member. But if you help make them strong and stable, they can offer repose to someone else who may need to someday take a seat.
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