(1019 words – 5 minute read)
There is a TV show called “Getting On”. It takes place in a nursing home. I work part-time in an assisted living home, which is one step up from a nursing home. I have worked in nursing homes. Waiting to die is what they are doing. I call it the dead zone.
My mother, when she reached her 80’s, said she was in the departure lounge (waiting for her flight out of here) and that’s how it is in assisted living. I call out the numbers at bingo and give an exercise class. The rest of the time they watch TV, eat and sleep.
It’s a backwater; out of the stream of life and it’s involvement in becoming this or that, in gain and loss. The game is over; all that remains are pastimes to pass time. Maybe an occasional thought arises: “What was that all about?” But as well as the body the mind is tired. All we have are vague reminiscing, stories of farm life, husbands gone, children far away; scraps of fragile memory; faint reminders of who we used to be.
Bernie Sanders is 74 and running for president so we’re not there yet, but it looms on the horizon. There is a chill in the air of my endless summer. Priorities shift. If you’re going to do it, do it soon.
Introverts think about this stuff, extroverts don’t – they just get on with it.
I always ask about this at some point. Recently, after a resident died at the age of 101, I asked our assisted living supervisor how a death affected the residents.
“Oh, I’m sure they’ve all reconciled themselves to that when they came here” was her reply. And that’s probably true.
They are mostly Christian, waiting for the promise of their heavenly reward to be fulfilled. “Why haven’t I been taken yet?” one man complained. I had no answer.
Some months back another resident died at the local hospital. She had been a nurse most of her life. Her daughter told me her last words were “It’s time for me to go now.” I like that. Straightforward.
Some years back, when I was starting my work in healthcare at the nursing home, a resident there was ready to die. He had stopped the last two things he enjoyed: ice cream and Wheel of Fortune. His son wanted a feeding tube put in to his stomach. I persuaded him not to. “It’s time to go.” And so she did.
The next day I was washing his body with Nurse Betty, my mentor, without whom I would never have made it. She insisted on using warm water and washing with soft, loving strokes, as if he were still alive. That’s how things should be done.
When I was working at the hospital it went the other way. An elderly mother dying of cancer, (and OK with it,) to please her two hysterical daughters, (by now in their sixties,) agreed to have a feeding tube put in. She lived an extra month or so. I hope it was worth it.
The court astrologer of a small kingdom at the foot of the Himalayas, about 1500 years ago, predicted as a child that the newborn son of the king would either be a world leader or a sage who would liberate the world from suffering. The king of course, being an extrovert, wanted his son to be Emperor of the World and to this end kept him in the palace grounds away from the ravages of old age, sickness and death, the sight of which, so the astrologer said, would turn him away from conquering the outer world in favor of conquering the inner world.
The gods conspired to have his chariot driver take him out to the local village. The rest is history. You can’t keep a good introvert down.
Figuring I Out Or Getting on with it
We are a mix of each. I am more, much more, of a figure it out guy, and along with that goes a feeling that something is wrong with me and when I get that figured out and fix myself up I’ll be OK to get on with my life. Only it has become my life, and, like the snake eating it’s tail, the Ouroboros, it is the assumption that something is wrong with us, that we have a fatal flaw that is our fatal flaw.
But we still have to figure out exactly what it is we think is wrong with us, what we think is broken, to break the spell we have cast upon ourselves.
My father told me the story of Alexander and the Gordian Knot. There was this intricate knot that no one had been able to untie. It had become a thing, a problem that no one could solve, and the one who could untie it would become a world leader.
Alexander the Great was challenged to untangle the knot. “Easy” he said and unsheathing his sword chopped the rope up into little bits. Extroverts!
Of the six realms of existence the Human realm is the best. “The precious human life” the Buddhists call it, because it provides the greatest opportunity for liberation.
In the god realm they’re hanging out having too good a time to bother.
In the animal realm they are too stupid.
In the jealous god realm they are always fighting.
In the hungry ghost realm they are consumed with looking for food
and in the hell realm they are in too much pain. Which one are you in?
I am having a very fortunate life, for which I am extremely grateful. Having enough money to see it through sometimes concerns me. I am reminded of a phrase said by a Japanese monk on the road, maybe Basho in one of his haiku.
He says: “ten days of rice in my satchel – life is good”.
I say: “Ten days of rice and a full tank of gas”.
It’s bucket list time. If you’re going to go for it, go for it now. Go Bernie, go!