It Sure Beats The Alternative

Last week I participated in a departmental meeting that included a presentation on the subject of the detection and prevention of neglect and abuse among the elderly; a serious subject to be sure. The woman who presented the material that day has, in the past, given us other continuing education presentations on a variety of subjects. I have always found her to be knowledgable, an interesting speaker, and have enjoyed the material she has presented. As the opening for this particular offering, she read the poem, “Crabby Old Man,” which I include below:

Crabby Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . . . . What do you see?
What are you thinking . . . . . when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old man . . . . . not very wise,
Uncertain of habit . . . . . with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . . . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . . . . . ‘I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice . . . . . the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . A sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not . . . . . lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . . . The long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking? . . . . . Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse . . . . . you’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am. . . . . . As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, . . . . . as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of Ten . . . . . with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters . . . . . who love one another.

A young boy of Sixteen . . . . with wings on his feet.
Dreaming that soon now . . . . . a lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . . . my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows . . . . . that I promised to keep.

At Twenty-Five, now . . . . . I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . . . . With ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons . . . . . have grown and are gone,
But my woman’s beside me . . . . . to see I don’t mourn.
At Fifty, once more, babies play ’round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . . My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me . . . . . my wife is now dead.
I look at the future . . . . . shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing . . . . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . . . and the love that I’ve known.

I’m now an old man . . . . . and nature is cruel.
Tis jest to make old age . . . . . look like a fool.
 The body, it crumbles . . . . . grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . . where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . . . . a young guy still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys . . . . . I remember the pain.
And I’m loving and living . . . . . life over again.

I think of the years, all too few . . . . . gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people . . . . . open and see.
Not a crabby old man . . . Look closer . . . see ME!!

Author Unknown

The first time I read this poem, a little over a year ago, I was struck with the truth of it. Having worked with the elderly for the greatest portion of my nursing career, I am well acquainted with how most people treat elders in our society: the older and more infirmed they are, the more invisible they become, and the less respect they are afforded. As this poem was read last week, the mood in the room was one of sentimental syrup–something I do not tolerate well.

As the presentation continued, the woman asked our group: “Who in here is looking forward to getting older?” There was an awkward pause, and then I raised my hand. The woman was shocked that someone had answered her question in the affirmative. I gather no one had ever done that before. To her credit though she responded with, “Good for you!”

The nurse that I was sitting next to however, didn’t handle my response quite so graciously. She said with a stunned look and aggressive tone, “You want to get older?”

I must admit that in the split-second before my response, a sense of the mischievous came over me and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. So say it, I did:

“It sure beats the alternative!”

It took a moment before the other nurses and social workers in the room understood what I was saying. There was some uneasy laughter and then one of the nurses said: “Well, I guess that’s true. I never thought of it that way before.”

Of course, the woman in charge of the presentation continued on and finished what proved to be a thoughtful and helpful lecture. We disbanded and returned to our work areas but I could not stop thinking about that conversational interchange.

I realized that for those who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, getting older certainly does beat the alternative. It reminds me of that saying: “Every day above ground is a good one.” But, for those of us who do know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the alternative to life here on earth is heaven: a much better option to my way of thinking.

Every day as I walk the hallways of the hospital where I work, someone no longer gets to make the choice between life and death–that choice is made for them, their bodies finally fail.  At some point it becomes too late for them to make the choice for faith in Jesus Christ.

In the early years of my nursing career, I had an experience that continues to haunt me to this day. I was a dialysis nurse at the time and one of my favorite patients had grown weary of the day-to-day fight of staying alive with the aid of a machine.  As had happened previously in my career, I was asked about “end of life” issues, in this case what the end might be like should he choose to discontinue his three times a week appointment with the dialysis machine.

As I gave him the information he requested, I delicately broached the subject of his spiritual readiness to meet God. I began to discuss salvation, heaven, and his ultimate death, should he follow through with the choices we had just been discussing.  I will never forget what he said to me that day:

“I know what you are talking about, but I have been a good person and that’s good enough.”

I knew then that any further discussion would be pointless. He knew all about Jesus Christ and was making a deliberate choice to reject Him. Somehow I managed to complete the conversation with him and finish out my work day.

Shortly thereafter this patient did indeed choose to stop his dialysis treatments. About a week or so after that he died and, unless he changed his mind after I saw him that day, now spends his eternity without the presence of God. The horror of that is more awful than I can contemplate.

Which begs the question for us all: if we know what happens to those who do not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, why are we not more passionate about telling others the Good News of the Gospel? Do we have no sense of how short our time is? Do we really not believe in the reality of Heaven and Hell? To the best of my knowledge, none of us get out of this temporal experience alive.

How selfish are we that our lives are so consumed with the cares of this world that every day we never notice those around us who are dying without Jesus Christ? I am preaching to myself here. I need to shake myself out of this spiritual complacency, laziness, self-centeredness, fear, or whatever it is that keeps me from telling all that I come in contact with about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

It doesn’t matter if there are some who don’t like the rules of the game. God set down the requirements for redemption from sin. There are no exceptions, there are no exemptions, there are no second chances to make a decision for Christ after our last breath. None of us know how many days we have been given. It is time for us to make each day, each moment, each breath count, because accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord gives us the gift of life eternal in heaven with Him.

It sure beats the alternative.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2012 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved