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James R. Stout

The Ballad of Walker Cane

            I believe its natural for us to portray ourselves in the best light as possible. Now, there are certainly some people who seem to love being felt sorry for. Those people will often make sure that everyone sees how bad off they are, physically speaking. Many times, it’s not as bad as they make it out to be. But I think most of us don’t want to display our infirmities if at all possible. I watched a movie tonight that made me think about this issue. It was made in 1974 and starred John Wayne. The movie is “McQ” and its really quite good. The script had originally been proposed as a movie for Steve McQueen, but he declined the role and it was re-written with John Wayne in mind. It was the first of only two movies in which he played a cop. It was directed by the highly successful and excellent director John Sturges. He is best known for directing the blockbusters, “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape”. The film features a chase seen worthy of Steve McQueen in a 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a 455 cubic inch V-8 and all the trimmings for the day. He would only make three more movies after “McQ”.

            John Wayne was 66 when the movie was filmed. A bit long in the tooth for a cop, but he pulls it off amazingly well. What you don’t realize as you’re watching the movie is that due to his having lost one of his lungs to cancer, he could only walk a short distance before having to take an oxygen treatment. You would never know it. He was a good actor and when it came to being physically limited and hiding it, he was a great actor. It was a mere two years before his last film, “The Shootist” in which he plays an aged and dying gunslinger. Knowing what he was having to go through physically it makes his acting in that movie that much more amazing. He died only 5 years after “McQ” came out.

            I truly believe that there are a lot of people, especially people over a certain age, who do their best to hide the ailments that they are fighting. You probably know people that you would never guess are dealing with a chronic illness or handicap. You may be one of them. I am, but I’m not going to go into that. Suffice it to say that time is the great equalizer. We need to be more patient with each other. If there’s someone at the grocery store who is obviously aged and is using a cane or walker or riding one of those carts, then put yourself in their place. They certainly don’t want to have to live that way. And don’t judge them either. Maybe they’re overweight. It’s a little too easy to think that they’re just lazy or that they’re in their situation by their own doing. Whenever I see a person who appears to be 20 years older than I am, then I think about how they were active young adults when I was a child. They did their fair share of bending down and helping a toddler up after a fall. They did their fair share of being patient with children who were running around like a bunch of wild Indians. Well, it’s my turn now to be patient with them. It doesn’t take much to be nice to someone, but it means so very much to that person when you are. If we all live long enough, then our bodies are going to wear out. It’s a fact of life. There are also plenty of younger people who are dealing with serious illnesses that you can’t see. Cancer, diabetes, and a whole host of diseases don’t care what age you are. I have a dear friend whose daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was about 7-years-old. She had to go through things as a child that other children didn’t have to face. But she’s in her late 30’s now with children of her own and is a successful nurse practitioner. I can’t help but wondering if her illness as a child inspired her to help others.

            So, next time you’re in a store or traffic and someone isn’t moving fast enough to suit you or is riding on one of those carts and blocking the aisle, try wearing a smile and being nice. I know how hard that can be with some people. I know that there are days when we just don’t feel like smiling. But it pays to be nice and it’s the right thing to do.

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