Aging and empathy

Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Day to Day | 2 comments

Water Grave Vietnam   We’ve put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it. ~Frank A. Clark

The other day, I attended a concert with my husband. The venue was intimate (small), but well suited for the event. I have incredibly diverse taste in music, and this concert featured Mozart not Nickelback, Prince or Beck.

As we headed to our seats, there’s was a bit of a wait because a gentleman in our row was having difficulty maneuvering out of his seat.  Not a big deal. The concert was scheduled to last a little over an hour with no intermission and a Q&A session at the end. As I settled in, I could see why it was challenging for the gentleman – the seat was comfortable for me, but smaller and much closer to the seat in front of me than I am used to. The fabric made it feel like a bit like I was attached to Velcro.

At the end of the first piece, the gentleman seemed to have more challenges in getting comfortable in his seat and he whispered something to his companion. The woman in front of him gave him a quick annoyed glance. He settled in a bit and soon his fingers subtly moved in time to the music. I couldn’t help but notice that his hands had been victim to arthritis. His knuckles and fingers had the tell-tale swelling and bending. A few moments later, as he was still trying to get comfortable, he inadvertently kicked the seat in front of him and the woman turned around, shot him a dirty look, and started to say something. Before she could, the gentleman gruffly said – “You could move over” as he pointed to the two seats to her left that had been empty from the beginning of the concert. She said something that I wasn’t able to decipher and then moved to the empty seat. The woman was probably in her forties and the man in his eighties.  The man now seemed distressed and ran his hands over his knees as someone would when they were trying to rub away the pain. I don’t know if his pain was  physical or emotional, but he whispered something to his companion a few minutes later and they left abruptly.

The incident took place over a small period of time, but it has stayed with me for much longer.  I still feel a twinge of sadness that the man wasn’t able to stay and enjoy the concert and because of the lack of empathy or compassion he was shown in that moment. I understand we all hate to have our chairs kicked, but we can  control our reaction to it. He obviously wasn’t a three year-old child who didn’t know better. It was an innocent slip of the foot stemming from the discomfort of his situation. When the concert ended, my husband leaned over to the woman and said “I know he gave you a bit of a rough time, but he was really struggling.” She replied with a simple “I know” and a tiny smile of, perhaps, understanding.

I wonder if he would have stayed if the woman had reacted differently. Once again, I am reminded of how one simple action or reaction can have such a large impact on the life of another.  Life seems much happier for all of us when we choose empathy over judgment.



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  1. I see that sort of impatient anger so often. I see it in my wife being annoyed at me, at the world, sometimes. I see it in my daughter the same way. Not all the time, but enough to notice. It seems that annoyance and judgment are now a national pastime and it’s very sad. I am happy you took notice of that one small moment.

    • Thanks Marty. I think of life as a series of small moments. We miss so much when we only live for, or focus on the “big” moments. The living happens in the moments in between. 😉