In the old age home, having and doing are irrelevant
My wife and I live in an old age home. Of course, nobody calls it that because old age has become taboo in our time. In respectable company it’s described in euphemisms. Our residence is called a “parents’ home,” perhaps implying that it’s a children’s home for old people. We’re well protected and looked after. The place is comfortable and suitably equipped; it even has a swimming pool and a gym.
My neighbours and I pedal ferociously on fake bicycles and allied equipment in the gym as the appliances record speed and distance while we’re, in fact, sitting still and going nowhere. It’s an apt metaphor for our lives here. For reasons of safety, we’re not allowed to stand, let alone move, while exercising, because falling is the most common cause of accidents among old people.
But that’s no reason for anybody to feel sorry for us or we for ourselves, because the place offers its residents opportunities not just to be judged by what we do or what we have but by who we are. Titles and possessions don’t count for much here, persons do.
Residents aren’t expected to parade their achievements or be judged by their accomplishments in life. The positions we may have once held with pride as evidence of status, perhaps even excellence, count for little here. The books we may have written can perhaps be found in the home’s library, but there’s no evidence that residents read them.
As for having, the place caters mainly for the middle classes — some of us feel uncomfortable about those who can’t afford it here — but we all live in small spaces and have had to dispose of most of our cherished possessions that once adorned our homes.
Other signs of having don’t get us far either. Even if we can still get travel insurance, sitting in airplanes and spending time in hotels has become more of a burden than a pleasure. To parade in expensive clothes here would only cause embarrassment. Going to restaurants is problematic because they often are too noisy for our ears, even though most of us are hearing impaired, and the fancy food on the menu plays havoc with our digestion.
But as doing and having are rendered irrelevant, there’re many opportunities to celebrate being. Lectures and recitals, outings and encounters enhance our daily existence and make us feel that we’re still caring, feeling and knowing people. And we don’t have to compete with anybody, not even with ourselves. Not having to assert ourselves has rendered life more wholesome and liberating, despite ailments and disabilities.
Some residents enjoy social status vicariously. Their accomplished children, even grandchildren, visit us to lecture or to perform. In addition to bringing joy to their parents and grandparents, these members of the younger generations add colour and content to the community.
Being means living in the present, perhaps with occasional flashes of memory. We try not to think about the future, because we surmise, perhaps even fear, what it’s likely to bring. Obituary notices of people we got to know here remind us of it.
But that need not scare us. Caring doctors and the drugs they prescribe extend our being and thus our affirmation, even celebration, of life. But, inescapably, the reflections of the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes are on our minds: “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven: A time for being born and a time for dying.”
Acceptance of life now is the great challenge and the great opportunity of old age. Our parents’ home makes that easier for us.