Grumpy Old Lady

by Joanie Butman


During my last early morning walk in Florida, I came upon a family of frolicking dolphins. It felt like a parting gift as I had been praying to see one jump (and catch it on camera for my daughter) before I left. It would have been a perfect morning had I not been accosted by a crotchety old biddy waving her walking sticks perilously close to my head. I had earphones on (listening to Christian music), engrossed in a God moment, so did not hear the woman screaming at me about trespassing. Had I not turned around when I did, I think she would have pushed me off the dock, giving me a closer encounter with the dolphins than I wanted. Florida has a ‘stand your ground’ law, and this woman was ready to take advantage of it. I couldn’t afford another police incident. Two infractions in one month would result in a BOLO (be on the lookout) with the local police.


I could not deny that I was guilty as charged, but everyone walks along that path – which was exactly her issue. I apologized profusely as she chased me (or as close to chasing as an octogenarian with walking sticks can get) off the property. There is no denying there is a glut of cranky, elderly people in this community. It took all the willpower I had not to go “all Brooklyn” on the old bat. 

I should have taken a photo of her angry, contorted face. The dichotomy between that image and the graceful, always smiling dolphin illustrates life in general – parallel paths of joy and pain. Both exist simultaneously. Your perspective is dictated on which you choose to focus on. I was not going to let this woman’s miserly attitude detract from the magical moment I just experienced watching a family of dolphins enjoying a playful, leisurely morning. I wish she could have looked two feet beyond me to witness the beauty in front of her rather than her fury of having to share it with me.


All the other elderly residents I’ve met along that path couldn’t have been nicer, sharing stories of that family of dolphins like proud grandparents. It made me think that aging doesn’t necessarily make you grumpy, though chronic pain, loss of independence, and failing faculties could certainly test the best of us. No, I don’t think people change all that much. We just become more of who we’ve always been.


God has definitely been teaching me patience­ and given me plenty of practice down here. I got it right sometimes, but sometimes I did not. Despite the fact that I couldn’t have been more contrite and polite to the woman railing at me, what I was thinking is not fit to print. I was even tempted to return one more time just to see what she would do and to offer this Biblical health tip from Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Or maybe I could remind her of the lines from the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That’s the Christian version of a ‘holler back’ girl.


So, what’s the choice point of this story? Regardless of your circumstances, choose to seek out the positive, focusing on things to be thankful for rather than the negative. As the saying goes, “Change your focus, change your life.” St. Paul was in prison when he wrote his letter to the Philippians reminding them, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…and the God of peace will be with you.” A failing mind and body is also a prison of sorts I suppose. It’s not easy trying to stay positive, but it sure beats the alternative.

What or on whom do you focus? Choose wisely.