‘That’s What They All Say’

It was time for my annual eye check-up. The young optician introduced himself in an anonymous sort of way (‘my name is Andrew’ ), took my coat from me and showed me the chair I had to sit in (unpleasently similar to the electric chair in Hollywood B movies), and then went through the now familiar routines of eye testing, with a soothing voice (‘will you do this -and that – for me?’…who else would I do it for!); procedures that would show whether my sight had deteriorated over the last twelve months or not.

Last time this had happened another optician (a rather more detached and less smiley young man) had diagnosed a hole in my left retina which meant a visit to a G.P. followed by two lazar treatments at an Eye Hospital, an experience which I hated. So I was a bit apprehensive this time. Well apparently nothing much had changed, except for the discovery of a small cataract in my other eye. I was told it was unlikely to require attention for five years or so. I murmured, ‘if I am here then’.

It was then that he said, ‘that’s what they all say’.

‘They’! So I was being treated less as a person, but more as one of that group in society who can be designated as ‘old’. I had a vision of a succession of older people thus characterised by this young man. As I had waited to be seen, another client had been helped up the stairs to this first floor suite by a mobile chair fixed to the staircase. Another of ‘them’, waiting to be seen, still there as I left. Plenty of evidence in this young man’s working life of that growing segment of humanity whose lives are increasingly in sight of their end.

It reinforced the inevitable feeling of separation between the young and the old, for which no one can be blamed but which so reduces relationships and understanding between the generations, and which is just as apparent in my description of my optician as a ‘young man’ as he designating me as ‘one of them’.

And that’s very sad indeed, but can’t be helped. The old can remember what it was like to be young; the young can’t even with the best will in the world, imagine what it’s like to be old. And may have no reason to try.

But it also brought me up against this increasing habit I have of referring to myself in exactly the same terms as my temporary friend did. There is a sense in which as one ages one is tempted to present oneself in those terms, declaring the fact as an injured person might display their wounds. It’s hardly necessary, for it’s more than apparent.

And lastly – in this homily! – I may be one of them, but I am also me!