I saw an old man in another line beside me in McDonald’s the other day. I noticed him because I could distinctly see how his head would shift back and forth contemplating between the burger or a salad meal on the lighted menu above the cash registers. Wanting to ease the self-inflicted pain he had created on himself, I excused myself and told him to just get the one that he really wants—the burger, it is the burger that he wanted, right? After a few seconds and me almost regretting for not minding my own business, he looked at me politely and slightly smiled.
"You’re right dear-y, but at my age, people—especially my grand-kids and doctors—sheesh—keep telling me to choose foods that are healthier."
"Well, lining up in McDonald’s isn’t exactly the healthiest choice to begin with", I jokingly said with a smile."
"Ha! You’re right about that. You young people nowadays sure are witty", he said, without a hint of sarcasm…or none that I could have noticed.
Since it was just the end of lunch hour, our lines were fast-moving and our initial conversation was cut short when it was his turn to finally order. It was not long after when I was beside him again and was my turn to order. I guess the young cashier had asked him twice already what his order would be, and seeing that the old man was still pulling and tugging on his decision, I made his order for him.
"He’ll have one regular burger meal and I’ll have the same as well. C’mon pops, my treat, and you’re sitting with me."
There was, I believe, a hint of relief from the burden of a decision I have taken away from him. With that episode, it led to an imaginary comedic judgement on how he went through his other daily activities—especially ones where he needed to make a choice.
"You didn’t have to, but I’m glad you did. How much do I owe ya?"
"Like I said, my treat. Don’t worry about it and savor your burger and fries."
"Are you sure? ‘Cause it’s the least that I could do. After all, now I won’t have to be guilty of eating this junk since I didn’t actually order it”, he said laughing.
"Can I give you some advice, pops? I know it’s supposed to be the other way around but—"
"Oh, go on dear-y! I may be old but I’m not that old-fashioned."
"Well, ‘cause the way I see it, old people—no offense—"
"None taken, none taken dear-y."
"Um, old people have been through so much—you know, with the long life and all—and the way I see it, if I’m gonna live until I’m old as you or much older, that would be the perfect time for me to yield to my deepest cravings—in all sense of the word. I’m gonna die soon anyway, inevitably, so what’s the use of trying to have a tasteless life. If I’m going out, I’d want to go out happy, a fully satisfied heart and stomach, and with a bang."
"Dear-y, so are you saying that we all have it the opposite?"
Treading the water of that question for a moment, I realized and decided that yes, that was exactly what I meant.
"Hmm…you see at my age, you know, the twenties, that age gap is the peak of our existence. It is when the world completely opens wide for us and we can do anything and everything within legal limits—or not. And I believe that that is the time where we should take care of our health—mentally, physically, and emotionally—for us to achieve our highest of being and to start build a colorful foundation for our lives. Because like I said, when people reach forty or fifty, it’s like downhill from there…so better end not with a period or a "…"—‘cause that’s the worst—but end with an exclamation point."
"I get ya. I think I get ya, dear-y. Because what is the point?", the old man said with a seriously thoughtful look on his face.
"I didn’t mean to make you upset pops."
"Oh, no dear-y. You’re just making me think. And that’s supposed to be a good thing, right? And I get what you’re meanin’ and at some point I guess I agree. It might be things are the way the are because on some humanly vulnerable level we are all just afraid of the unknown and still want immortality—just like our ancient ancestors did."
I have to admit, I was impressed by this old man’s answer. Smug as I am.
"True, true. So are you afraid of dying, pops?—I’m sorry! You don’t have to answer that.”
And smug as I am, I wish I knew how to just shut up sometimes.
"That’s all right. No need to feel ashamed of that valid question, dear-y. And I’d love to answer that question. Heck, I haven’t had this interesting a conversation in years, haha! And the answer is it depends—for me it’s a “no”, I’ve had a fun and interesting life, ups and downs and all. I have three wonderful pain-in-my-ass children, and have seven lovely pain-in-their-parent’s-asses grandchildren, and the most loving and caring wife a man could ever hope to marry. She’s with her creator now, God rest her soul. So, to repeat my answer dear-y, no I am not afraid of dying. And come to think of it, what was I thinking going on that stupid doctor’s diet? I should be eating my way back to my wife, that’s what I should be doing, haha!”
"That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard, pops. And I see what you’re getting at…I guess life and death is very well subjective. Just like what kind of meal you want to be getting when it’s your time to order."
"And the most important point of it all dear-y, is that it’s better to make any decision happy rather than depressed and angry. Leaves less room for regrets that way. Well dear-y, since I’m happy sitting and dining here with you, thank you for the junk food. I’m gonna eat this to my heart and cholesterol’s content."
"Just don’t tell your family and doctors who fed you the junk food pops." Laughing and having a nice conversation with this old man is, I thought, one of the best way to start founding my twentieth year.