Monday, February 01, 2010


A routine has been established. Not a great one, not during this cold month anyway, but it’s there: after class on Mondays, I take the bus to Whole Foods, buy groceries for dinners into the midweek, and walk home.

If fingers of a cold hand would freeze curved around the handles of a grocery bag, then I could make the trip without pause. But I have noticed that cold fingers that lose their sensitivity also lose their curved, hook-like shape. And so every now and then, I have to stop, put the bags down and do some wiggle activity to keep a grip on the bags.

In my final approach, I pause and prepare to wiggle. A young man, getting into his car sees me and asks – may I please help you?

Now, the good interpretation is that this young man is genuinely compassionate toward all, regardless. Seeing a person with heavy bags brings out that desire to assist, even though an assist here would be somewhat illogical. Would he walk with me? Drive me home?

But I think he was responding to something else: age.

Maybe his glasses clouded because of the cold. Maybe my jacket and scarf hid a kinder portrait. Or maybe I just am looking old this winter.

In Poland, there are two uncomfortable points when an age determination has to be made: first, at late adolescence, when you switch from the informal to the formal address. Gone is the first name for all but the privileged few. You are now a Ms and Mr and you will remain thus until your last breath.

The second point of transition is more subtle. It plagues those who use public transportation: at what point do you stand up and offer your seat? In Poland, young people will stand up for you if you’re, well, older. I expect that if I were riding a bus or tram in Warsaw, young people would scurry to give me their seat.

But when do the not so young get up? I mean, quite recently, I would rise for someone a tad (or several tads) older. What if, these days, someone would use the same calculus on me?