‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes’
For many years, a gentleman would walk past our house each day. He occasionally looked up but rarely smiled, waved or spoke. After a while I concluded, despite his relative young age, that he was a ‘grumpy old man’.
One day he stopped by our gate and asked me, rather abruptly, to cut back a branch from a tree in our garden that was overhanging the pavement. He looked unfriendly, stern even, he never smiled and our conversation was short. I cut back the offending branch later the same day. The gentleman continued to walk past our house each day, never smiling or speaking and rarely acknowledging me. As before, I would smile and wave and think of him as a ‘grumpy old man’.
Over the next few years the gentleman walked past our house less and less frequently and more and more slowly until eventually I didn’t see him walking past at all.
I saw him some time later and spoke to him and his wife. I had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for a couple of years by this time. I remarked that I hadn’t seen him walk past for a long time. When he tried to reply, his speech was so poor that I couldn’t understand him. His wife explained that his Parkinson’s had progressed so much in recent years and after many falls, he rarely ventured out of his home.
In an instant I realised my assumptions about the ‘grumpy old man’ were entirely wrong. The ‘grumpy old man’ was fighting a battle every day to maintain his independence. His walk down our street was fraught with difficulties requiring all of his attention to navigate them safely. He was challenged by his poor balance, stiffness and uneven gait. The overhanging tree branch was just one more unnecessary obstacle to navigate.
His expressionless face was not that of a ‘grumpy old man’ but one where Parkinson’s had stolen his ability to smile. His lack of a wave was because he could not maintain his balance if he were to look up and raise his arm. He didn’t speak as he passed by because he was concentrating so hard on simply staying upright. His daily walks past our house were part of his exercise regime, aimed at keeping him mobile for as long as he could, until Parkinson’s made that impossible too.
The many challenges that people with Parkinson’s face every day when undertaking the simplest of tasks are often not visible to others. I hope by raising a little awareness of the nature of these challenges that I and others might avoid being labelled a ‘grumpy old man’!