Grizzled companions
sun themselves, reminiscing
about pre-cane days.

“The Good Ole Days” by Walter Carter ©2003 / ephotograph

Edit: I received an email from Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By regarding this haiku. I thought it beneficial to share the exchange here.

From Ronni:

…[the haiku] posted on your site last Sunday with the excellent black-and-white photo of two old men on a bench, disturbs me. It is everything I rail against on Time Goes By every day.

The physical debilities that lead to using a cane are not synonymous with mental incapacity, as your haiku implies, and old people who need help walking are not pining the good old days — they have plenty of other things on their minds; these two old men could be discussing the war in Iraq or the American election or nuclear physics or a culture that continues to believe the myth that they’ve lost all their marbles because they are old.

Please take this into consideration in the future when you portray old people.

My response:

I’m sorry. I certainly intend no offense, nor want to perpetuate cultural myth. I do realize that physical debility does not imply mental incapacity (my own parents are great examples). The words to the haiku arose from the title associated with the photo, and indicate how deeply rooted such ideas are. We are products of our culture, and those of us who attempt to be aware still have our blind spots. I appreciate your helping me to notice this. If you’d like to take a turn at writing a replacement haiku (5-7-5), be my guest. I’ll use that instead!

Then Ronni:

Oh, Kathryn, writing 500-800 word essays every day is about as good as I get. Limiting myself to 17 syllables is not a possibility in time or talent.

Re: your “…those of us who attempt to be aware still have our blind spots” in your note: — that’s why Time Goes By and Crabby Old Lady and I are here. It is the off-hand repetition that reinforces the myths and needs to be caught at every turn to change prevailing attitudes.

Language is a powerful tool, for good or ill. When blacks, 40 years ago, demanded to be referred to as “black” or “African-American” instead of “Negro” is when attitudes and laws began to change and we at last got good civil rights legislation. There is still a long way to go, but great strides have been made, much of it on respectful language alone.

Repetition of respectul references can help change attitudes toward old people too.

Thanks for understanding.

Ronni gave permission to use this exchange, as I think it very relevant in exposing how insidious ageism is. Even I, who trained as a therapist, cannot escape cultural influences. The best we can all do is be receptive to reminders that they shape us and make changes as we become aware.

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