by Dave Markwell

An old man died this week. Probably many old men died this week. I only knew one of them. This old man lived in my hometown of Des Moines, Washington for nearly 50 years. His contributions to the community were, if not unmatched, certainly uncommon. My city is better because of him; his ideas, efforts and his commitment to service. We were very lucky to have had him as a citizen.

In the later years of his life, as his health diminished, life got hard for him. Driving, walking and many other of the much taken for granted ordinary tasks of living became difficult and frustrating. He lived a tough time of life with all the dignity and humanity he could muster. All pretense was stripped raw.

I first saw Clark in an old black and white newspaper clipping in a photo album my mom kept. He was sitting next to my mom at some type of civic event organizing meeting. He wore a smile and hair. The picture was taken in the mid-1960’s.

In high school during the mid-80’s, I remember, with no fondness, his early Saturday morning weed wacking outside of my buddy, Dan’s, bedroom window. Clark was Dan’s neighbor and as I often stayed the night at Dan’s house following our teenage adventures, I was a sleepy and hungover victim of Clark’s diligent adherence to his weekend chores. I did not like Clark on these mornings.

Later, I joined the Rotary Club and Clark was a fixture. While his health was poor, his presence was strong. He was a guy that had “done it”. He did not need to prove anything to anyone. He was much admired and loved. In his last years, he was still highly respected and relevant. His life was one worthy of high regard and lives as a model for me: a bit disheveled, not giving a crap about what anyone else thinks, kind and still relevant is a good way to go…I think…

Over the past few years, Clark could often be seen shuffling around the Marina, moving slowing behind his walker, his hair a mess, stopping only to take a sip of his Jack in the Box milkshake (chocolate, no whipped cream, no cherry). I imagine what the kids gathered around their cars thought as Clark strolled by. It is likely they thought little of this slouched, saggy old guy moving slowly with his milk shake and sweatpants. They missed it.

We all miss it. The kids had no idea of this man’s gifts, his service, his deeds, his bright mind, his big heart and big contributions to the very lives they were able to have because of him and people like him. They only saw what they saw. They missed it. Overlooked was Clark’s impact on the world. And it was a big thing to miss.

Clark’s waning years told a story, but not the whole story. I think this is true for many old people. They get defined as old and we forget they were young. We forget that they built the roads we travel on. They fought the wars, created the businesses, defined the policies, had the ideas and DID IT long before we did. They lived it and DID IT!

As I get older, I find my grandparents words ringing more and more true. In my youth, back when I knew everything, I politely listened to their words then, discarded them. I had it figured out. They were old and didn’t “get it”. I was wrong. They got it. I didn’t get it. I don’t think many people get it and maybe we can’t get it until we’re old. This may be a curse. We have much to learn from our old folks. They are the back bone of our world. They created the framework of our lives.

Today, more old people will die. But, some will die tomorrow. With the time they/we have together appreciate them a little more. Listen to them. They can still teach us valuable lessons. We owe them, and ourselves, this and so much more. And we should aspire to grow old, perhaps a bit unkempt, funny and impatient, but still very alive and still relevant. Like Clark did.

[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, who just published his first book called “A Feel Good Life” (buy it on Amazon here). Dave also extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, you can “friend” Dave on Facebook here. Or work out with him at his exercise company Waterland CrossFit!]

4 replies on “FEEL GOOD FRIDAY: Old People.”

  1. What a wonderful tribute to a truly remarkable person. Thank you for also recognizing the value and worth of our seniors! They have so many incredible stories and valuable lessons to share – if we take the time to listen.

  2. What a wonderful article about our beloved and respected Clark, he will be greatly missed but always admired. He was THE true Rotarian. We all need to take the time to listen to our elders and respect their wisdome, they have much to offer us all.

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