On being … model behaviour

By Ingrid Sapona

Last week I was in Buffalo visiting my octogenarian mother. It’s tax time and a library near her hosts an AARP tax clinic two mornings a week. The service is free and they do a terrific job. So, about this time every year I phone the library to find out what days the clinic runs and then make a point of getting to Buffalo to get Mom’s taxes done.

The clinic is popular and they sometimes have to turn people away. But, they’ve got a system that’s pretty fair, if somewhat unusual. It’s basically first-come, first-served, but there’s a bit of a twist.  Though the clinic starts at 10 a.m. (when the library opens for the day), on mornings that the clinic is held, someone puts up a sign-up sheet on the library door at 8 a.m. The trick is to get there early and get your name on that sheet, which has space on it for about 20 names. Then, when the clinic opens, if your name’s on the list they do their best to get to you before they close at 1:30 p.m.

Monday morning was cool – 27°F – but sunny. The roads were dry, but driving was a bit tricky because it was hard to see around all the huge piles of snow along the edges of the roads and at corners. (Buffalo had a rough winter even by Buffalo standards!)  My plan was to get there at about 7:45 a.m. On my way to the library I stopped and bought a coffee, figuring I’d sip it in the warm car while I waited for the sheet to go up.

Well, when I pulled up at 7:50 the parking lot was nearly full. I wasn’t surprised others were there before me, but I couldn’t believe all the seniors were waiting out in the freezing cold! I figured we’d all sit in wait in the warmth of our cars. I parked and went to join the line.

As I zipped my jacket up, the woman in front of me in line smiled and commented about how lovely a day it was. I mentioned that I was surprised there was already quite a lineup and she pointed out that it’s because that morning was the first nice morning they’ve had this winter and folks are probably anxious to get their taxes done. The senior in front of her voiced his agreement. 

As others arrived, I couldn’t help notice how many said good morning and welcomed people to the line. There was a definite social aspect to the whole thing and no one seemed the least bit put out about waiting in the cold. She then told me that last week she was there for her return but when she got home she noticed her address was wrong so she was there just to get it corrected. When I commented that I bet she felt frustrated, she laughed and said it was ok. In fact, she hoped the guy who prepared her return last week was there again because she was going to tease him and say that she figured he made the mistake just so he could see her again! How cute is that? And what a positive way of looking at the inconvenience of standing in line in the cold.

Since I was 13th on the list, I returned to the clinic at about 10:45. There were six volunteers – all seniors – sitting behind laptop computers, each with another senior (the person whose return they were preparing) sitting across from them. As they worked, they focused on what they were doing, but they also cheerfully chatted with the person they were helping and with fellow volunteers.

All of the volunteers were old enough to have grown up with typewriters and carbon paper rather than computers and printers, and they were a bit slow on the data-entry front, but no one seemed to mind. If one of them had a problem printing, or got an error message, another volunteer would help and the two of them would figure it out.

I couldn’t help notice how good humoured everyone was and how patient. No one was in a rush. No one was chatting on a phone. None of them had even brought the newspaper or a book to read while they waited. Instead, they just made small talk about this and that with others who were waiting. As I sat there, watching how calm everyone was, I could actually feel my normal fidgetiness ebb.

The rest of that day I thought about those seniors and their behaviour. They seemed to notice and appreciate so much more than many of us do. It was a cold day, but they saw it as warmer and sunnier than it had been for weeks. And they didn’t mind lining up – they were just grateful that the clinic existed and that they could get to it. And rather than seeing the clinic volunteers as being there to carry out a task, they saw them as folks they might make a connection with and have a conversation with.

As children, we look to our parents and their friends as role models. But, as they become seniors and we start to help them with more things, we often think we don’t have anything more to learn from their behaviour. That morning helped me realize what a mistake that is. Those seniors were wonderful role models. They demonstrated hardiness (getting up early and braving the cold), patience, sociability, and gratitude – qualities many of us should work on.

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


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