You have seen the picture before. In National Geographic, it’s a framed face of a man or a woman that has seen a lot of years. Their face is old, and weathered, and it’s like the weight of the world has just consumed them. I’ll call him Fred. Every morning Monday through Friday for the last ten years I have seen Fred on the way to work. That’s 250 days a year that we have passed each other, 2500 times over the last ten years. When you frame Fred’s face you see that picture I was describing. Fred looks to be about 80 years of age or so. He is outside every morning selling newspapers on a Chicago street under the Skyway bridge that gives him some protection from the elements. He walks within four feet of my driver’s side door. About a year ago he lost a tremendous amount of weight. His spirit seems to go up and down with the weather. When the sun is shining and warmer he usually has somewhat of a smile on his face. He looks like he’s enjoying himself. He looks young in his eyes.
In the ten years time we have had nodded at each other, only twice that I know of and this morning was one of them, we both looked at each other and it kinda happened at the same time. Not really much time for contact or any social graces as he has to weave in and out of cars in the middle of the street as they proceed with their commute in mass towards downtown Chicago. I can’t think it’s an easy task for an older man keeping up with the dodging of vehicles as they wisk by at thirty five to fourty miles and hour. His prime time is when the traffic light turns red of course.
It makes me wonder, why an 80 year old man is out there probably making maybe minium wage for a few hours of rush hour. Having not met the man, I could assume a lot of things about his life, but one of the most plausable thoughts is he’s retired and still needs, no maybe he wants to stay busy. As I approach retirement years I’m becoming aware of my future. Having taken care of elderly family members and volunteered in a senior citizens home I have witnessed what I do not want to happen to me. I do not want to be forgotten, I do not want to be weak, I do not want to be tied down with some sort of handicap. It’s getting harder and harder for the average man to retire these days. Not all of us are two income families where we could afford to save more. Many of us have had additional expenses in our lives such as children staying longer in the nest or coming back to the nest because of our economic times. The increased costs and reduction of benifits that insurance companies have imposed, have really hurt the average man and his ability to retire and stay healthy. I can easily see myself as Fred, and one day someone may look at me the same way and so, the circle of life continues here in the United States. Maybe soon we may hear one of our politicians say, what the Japanese official recently was quoted as saying “why don’t these older people just die and stop being a burden to all the rest of us”! I hope not and I don’t ever want to be considered as a burden, so Fred look out, I maybe be taking over your corner when your ready to give it up, because I don’t see myself in retirement anytime soon.