Tuesday, I was a chaperone for a group of third graders at the zoo, and as we were leaving I met the woman I want to be when I am very old. Racing to the rendezvous point by our deadline I encouraged the kids, “We’ve made it this far and no one has lost a leg. Keep going…” Well the hurrying stopped and the kids proceeded to pretend body parts were falling off. They limped, dragged and moaned themselves to the exit of the zoo. Thankfully we had three minutes and I could see the teachers, so I just laughed and kept encouraging them to move forward while the zombie leprosy overtook them.
Of course, while my kids were emulating disastrous disabilities we lurched past a group of really old people in wheelchairs. Some had oxygen. All had a helper pushing them. One was staring at me and my kids. Her red lipstick both matched the smart red jacket she was wearing and framed the beautiful smile on her face. She clapped her hands in delight and then held her clasped hands to her chest watching the loud silly kids parade past her. I don’t think one of them noticed her, but she noticed them, and we noticed each other. As I walked past she smiled at me and gave me a little wave while she kept laughing.
The kids weren’t being insensitive to people who couldn’t walk, or who were missing body parts. They were just playing and having fun. The old lady could have been grouchy. She could have wished that those loud kids would quiet down so she could enjoy the zoo sounds. Other old ladies might have shook their heads at me for not making my group of six urchins behave. But she didn’t. She recognized the joy of the moment. The fun that comes after six kids and one grown up have spent the day watching peacocks dance their mating dance, learning about assassin bugs, and picking which fish resembles their daddy. The excitement of getting to ride back on the bus. The pride of finishing their whole packet of zoo worksheets before lunch. It was a great day for us and it was like that old lady had a crystal ball and could see the entire joy of the trip in that last single moment our group had together.
While we were doing our last count of the kids before boarding the bus, the old woman was wheeled past our giant group of 82 kids and chaperones, and still she was smiling. Even as the kids did obnoxious kid things like play with toys they weren’t going to buy from the gift shop and try to trip each other. Then she saw me and reached out, so I stepped forward and held her hand, just for a moment, and smiled at her. As her dry paper skinned hand pulled out of mine I thought, I want to be like her when I grow up.