On a practically daily basis, we are faced with experiences that either completely shatter our faith in humanity, or restore it. More often than not, unfortunately it’s the former. I’d like to share with you a true experience I’ve had within the past two years, which did both.
I’m the kind of guy whom you could walk up to, punch in the face, and then say, “sorry, I thought you were someone else,” and I’d be cool with that. But if I let you in front of me in traffic and you didn’t give me the little “appreciation wave”, I’d let it ruin my whole day; maybe even my week. I know it sounds shallow and petty, but that’s just me. I was brought up by two amazing parents whom instilled the importance of manners in me from day one. If you didn’t use the words “please”, or “thank you” in my house, you simply did not get whatever it was you sought. And rest assured, there WOULD be ramifications.The neighborhood in which I live is inhabited primarily by senior citizens. Aging retirees comprise approximately 85 percent of my neighbors. I’m reasonably certain that I’m the only one on my block who has yet to receive an AARP card or social security check. Suffice to say, I’m the pariah on my street. As if it’s not bad enough that I’m 30 years junior to most of them, I’m also a “breeder” which makes me even more of a heathen.In this quaint neighborhood is a fast food restaurant that I now know never to enter between 11:00 a.m. and noon on a weekday. It’s “their” turf. I just wanted a burger and some fries and I felt like a Delta walking into a bar to see Otis Day and the Knights in the movie “Animal House”. I know this establishment doesn’t have a record player, but I could swear I heard a needle scratch across vinyl followed by a few seconds of complete silence. Upon my entrance, everything stopped briefly. They all stared at me as if I’d had antlers, cloven hooves, a dorsal fin, a forked tongue, and was playing a banjo with my man parts. I made my purchase and quickly found my way to a booth way in the back, as far away from the gang members as I could. This however, would prove to be a mistake. Because I opted to sit  in the direct flight path to the restroom, ensured (no pun intended), that I would have to look each and every one of them in the eye at some point in the 17 minutes it took me to finish my lunch. I was undaunted though. I smiled at each one as they passed while I enjoyed my burger. (On a side note, I believe that pickles have no place on a sandwich). I completed my meal, tidied up my area, placed my garbage in the proper receptacle, and made my way humbly toward the exit.

As I reached the vestibule, I observed five fine folks (gratuitous alliteration) slowly exiting an enormous beige Lincoln Town car. I believe this to be the “official vehicle” of their demographic. Each member of the party was, at the very least, in their seventies. And I’m being generous with the age assessment.  They were approximately fifteen feet across the lot from me so I knew I had at least a 25 second wait, yet still I felt compelled to stay and hold the door for them. Again, this is how I was raised. I watched and waited as this quintet of septogenerions traversed the 12-degree grade of sloping lot between them and the Promised Land. They were on a quest to obtain a bottomless cup of coffee, and a fish filet sandwich that could be purchased with a wrinkled fist full of coins and pocket lint. Not to be confused with the contents of the other front trouser pocket which housed a starlight mint so old that the red and white had bled together and it fused itself to the plastic wrapper, being saved for “just the right moment”. Its’ fellow resident in this pocket is a receipt for stool softener which is being saved in hope of writing it off on taxes as a “business expense”. They inched closer and closer to me at break-hip speed as I waited, holding the door open with a smile on my face. I felt a slight pang in my heart as if my trivial act was my good deed for the day.

Then came what I like to call, the proverbial back-hand to the ding-a-ling. As I patiently held the door, all five of them passed me entering the restaurant. Not only did NONE of them thank me, but not one of them even so much as acknowledged me! I was shattered. My faith in the human race had just hit an all time low. Here was a group certainly old enough to know better and I was left standing there with my jaw hanging, unable to speak. Wondering desperately and hopelessly what the future of our breed was. I couldn’t even muster the ability to give a loud, sarcastic “YOU’RE WELCOME!” They completely dismissed me as if I owed them for the achievement of doing nothing more than living to be a certain age. I was swept under the rug for the sole crime of being born in the wrong decade. Being the naïve, petty, hopeless optimist that I am, I actually stewed over this event for the rest of the day and let it ruin my previously great mood.  Really good burger moment ruined!  I went to bed that night sad, and still a little angry.

I awoke the next morning still a little disenchanted with humanity, yet I refused to allow this seemingly trivial act to alter my mood for a second day. I know it’s all really petty, but to me the act was a metaphor for the present state of the human race. I got out of bed and walked the length of my humble abode to awaken my daughter who had just recently turned five years old. I ascended the spiral staircase to the room of my sleeping princess. As I entered her room, I paused for a moment or two and sat down next to her bed. There is nothing more tranquil, therapeutic, and soothing to the soul than the sight of a sleeping child. I woke her with a gentle kiss on the cheek and a whisper of the words; “good morning princess”. She smiled and stretched before even opening her eyes.

It was the usual morning. I helped get her dressed then went to the kitchen to make breakfast and pack her lunch. She went into my room to wash up and let her Mother do her hair. Hair is not my thing and one can easily tell the days that I made the attempt. She emerged from the room with two perfectly braided pig-tails of long, flowing blonde hair. She sat at the table eating her breakfast staring at me with those two big beautiful, ice blue eyes as I finished packing her lunch and book bag. After brushing her teeth and kissing Mommy good bye, we climbed into the car and were off to school. Another exciting day of pre-K awaited her.

Once we arrived at school, I walked her to her class and kissed her good bye like any other day then turned for my journey back to the parking lot. I got to the front doors of the school right after a bus had dropped off several children. Standing in the foyer, I observed a convoy of thirteen kids, aged five to seven approaching the building. Undaunted by yesterday’s experience, I decided to take another crack at this “door holding” thing. In they walked, single file, one after another passing me. Much to my surprise and delight, not ONLY did each and every one of these thirteen children say “thank you” to me, but each and every one of them looked me directly in the eye and smiled as they did. I was positively elated! What an emotional rollercoaster ride the last 19 hours had been for a guy as neurotic as me. I immediately had a renewed faith in humanity and optimism for the future. Once again, a seemingly trivial and petty moment struck me as so poignant that here I am writing about it two years later. I smiled with pride and enthusiasm as I watched the last of the group walk into the school, then started my trip toward the parking lot. I can’t say with certainty, but I believe I recall a single tear descending over my cheek as I walked to my car, like a Native American looking at litter on the side of a highway. (Please forgive the reference if you’re too young to remember that commercial). I spent the rest of that day in a great mood, and couldn’t stop thinking about it. In the span of 24hours, a future that seemed dark now suddenly seemed so bright.

Please don’t read too much into this article or mistake the message. This is neither a bashing of the aging, nor a praising of the youthful. It was simply an experience of mine that I thought was worth sharing. These were two select, individual groups of people who don’t necessarily set the barometer for their age brackets but the experience changed me for the better. There are however, a few messages to be taken away from this. The first is that things like manners, politeness, courtesy, and common decency are not items which have a shelf-life. They cannot be used to a certain point and then cast aside as if no longer useful. Nor should they be reserved for a select few whom you deem worthy. Think back to your own childhood and the things and values that YOUR parents instilled in you. It wasn’t as long ago as it may seem that you too, were a smiling, cherubic, carefree child skipping your way into school.

The next message is to the Golden Generation. It’s human nature to look with just a tiny little hint of contempt upon the generation which follows you. I know I’ve been guilty of it. I can honestly say that each time I sit down to interview a 23-year-old kid who just pulled up in a $50,000.00 vehicle with the bass pumping, dressed like he just came from soccer practice, talking on his I-Phone, chewing gum, and with no pen or references to apply for his FIRST job, I can’t help but wonder; “where the hell did we go wrong?” But for each one of “that young guy”, there are those thirteen glimmers of hope for the future. So maybe, just maybe, we Generation- Xers whom you’ve scowled upon for so long are doing okay. Don’t lose faith.

And the final message is simply this. Treat each day that you wake up as a blessing, not a sentence. Some people just need to take a break from being a curmudgeon long enough to embrace life. Don’t act as if society owes you something simply because you’ve lived to be a certain age. My Grandmother had a saying which she used often when I was a child. She would say; “Live every day as if it were your last”.

I had no idea what this meant when I was a kid, nor did I care. And truth be told, I forgot about those words for many years. Sometime around my late twenties I remembered them and finally understood what they meant. It’s been my mantra ever since. My Grandma was no philosopher. She had many other sayings as well, most of which decorum will not allow me to print here. But this particular one struck a chord with me, enough to base my life on.

I know this article is a little out of character for me and my usual style of writing, but it’s something that happened to me that I felt inexplicably compelled to share with you. I hope you enjoyed, and thanks for playing along.

Until next time,

Syd Nichols

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of ShoreBread, D3Corp, or any of our partner publications. The editors, staff, and all contributing writers welcome comments and emails. Editorial discretion will be applied to emails or public comments that are deemed inappropriate in nature. We reserve the right to withhold publication of comments, or disregard emails where identities are withheld. Feel free to email info@shorebread.com with any concerns or questions.