The elderly, along with children, are the most fragile sector of the population any place in the world. Perhaps more fragile than children, because one usually arrives at the third age ailing and with chronic complaints that require medical care, proper nutrition, a more restful and comfortable life and, above all, a great deal of tenderness and respect. Only then does old age become a stage in life that is worthy of living until we arrive with dignity at the final minute.
Nevertheless, the situation of the elderly in Cuba is ever more worrisome. Almost daily the number of those who are forced to search out alternative forms of economic activities (always or almost always illegal), that help to round out the incomes from their meager pensions, seems to grow. Whether reselling newspapers door to door, or candies at the school gate, being itinerant sweet vendors, store messengers or just beggars, the undeniable reality is that today they form a devastating army that should serve as an example to us of what we ourselves could be tomorrow.
The worst of all, however, is the indifference of those who travel the streets everyday, who do not care at all about the human drama that is played out in the lives of these elderly people. It doesn’t seem to be their problem, it’s not their business. The arrogance of youth and healthy working age adults is the barrier against which the sadness displayed by every elderly person who struggles in the streets for subsistence crashes. It doesn’t occur to anyone to think that they are an example of willpower, that they insist on supporting themselves, that they are deserving of respect because of that and because they worked their whole lives, and that when they should be enjoying a deserved rest, lacking health and strength, they are forced to continue facing the challenge of earning money at the risk of being arrested and seeing their “merchandise” seized by the forces of “order.”
Seeing them I always think of one elderly man who enjoys every privilege. He’s been sitting (since his youth) in the first armchair. Now he sits in an especially comfortable one designed especially for him. He enjoys power, ample benefits, he has every comfort, the best medical services, the newest medicines, comfortable designer clothes, and his life, and even the best forms of death, are assured. He will never suffer deprivations or pain. But because everything has its compensations, this octogenarian gentleman carries with him a curse: many fear him, but no one loves him.