Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Monday, December 26, 2005

A Living Library

The death of an old person is like the loss of a library. - African saying

On Christmas Day, we spent an hour with a 98-year-old woman. We had never met her before. She lives in a nursing home, and didn't have any family planning to visit for the holiday. We arrived at the home just after 11:00 a.m., pushing a stroller and carrying bags full of gifts and flowers from the Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly organization that coordinated our visit and many others for the holidays. Most volunteers delivered meals. Since our elder (let's call her Mary) lived in a nursing home that provided food, we just brought the tokens of companionship provided by the Little Brothers.

We found Mary laying on top of her bed, staring into the air. She was, despite her position and the somewhat vacant look that she initially appeared to have, the picture of dignity in a fuschia skirt, ruffled white blouse, and fresh perm. Her hearing wasn't good, her eyesight shot, her body frail; nevertheless, Mary stood up to greet us and clear off some space on a chair next to her bed. For the next 45 minutes, we talked loudly and had a few awkward silences. But mostly we listened to a woman who was born in 1907 tell us snippets about her past, her family, her pets, and her life in the nursing home.

This last chapter in Mary's life has been hard. She missed her job and days spent interacting with patients at the hospital where she served as a caregiver. Now she depends on the aides walking past her door for every necessity. Her nieces and nephews, though living nearby, rarely visited anymore. She feared that her belongings and the gifts we brought would be stolen as they had been in the past. Most of all, she regretted being a burden.

I often write about trying to live in a life-giving way. For me, that means a daily struggle to make choices that affirm the life of the planet and those living on it. Sometimes looking to the oldest among us can provide a beautiful example of this path. I recently read in Ode magazine (a favorite source for alternative news stories that accentuate the positive) about old people gathering in public areas in China to practice tai chi together; they are simply enjoying life and companionship. On Christmas Eve, we took a walk in an urban shopping district and saw peace signs and colorful flags being waved. The people staging this public display for peace on earth? A group of senior citizens. And the original environmentalists? The people, like my grandmother, who lived through harder times when food was not wasted, reusing and recycling were daily necessities, and simple living wasn't a voluntary exercise. How much we have to learn from the examples of our elders! This Christmas, I witnessed the finest example of the life-giving spirit that I want to infuse my days exemplified in the simplest of scenes: a 98-year-old woman I had known for less than an hour smiling and cooing at my 3-month-old baby.


  • At 9:46 PM, Blogger spiral said…

    Your post reminds me that I meant to write about my most recent visit to my hospice patient. I've been a hospice volunteer for five or six years now, and even when I don't feel like visiting, I always get so much from it. An wonderfully affirming post--thanks!


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