Tag: blogging

The Humanity of Our Elderly

In the carefully-equalized biome of the retirement center I work at, there live a great diversity of people who refuse categorization:

A man with dementia who sometimes recognizes me, smiles, and may say some sort of hello–who sometimes doesn’t recognize anyone and is shuffled to a table by his unspeaking aide.

A woman who has been rude to me more than any other resident combined as she is chatting with a friend at a table. I overhear her say she won’t leave the cafeteria just yet, “I’ve been alone all morning.”

One of my favorite residents with a sense of humor so dry, you could use it as a pumice stone dates another of the favorites who cannot wait to hail me to the table to tell me about their date last night. He laughs as he explains that the date would not end because neither of them could get up from the couch.

Right next door to the laughing couple who joke blushingly about stealing “sugars” at the table, is the circle full of mourners who have just been told that a good friend’s daughter, a long-time friend of them all, has passed away unexpectedly. They cry and talk with heads close together; they hug each other and apologize to me for staying so late past close.

Sometimes I feel utterly filled up by the humanity of the residents. They seem so human, so unrecognizable inside the stereotypes that society wants to smother them with.

They infantilize each other; they joke about being in the way at every turn, at being useless, at being messy or incapable of something or another. They get sick, and I don’t see them for a while. They start off walking to the table, but they graduate soon to a walker or a wheelchair.

Many of them remember my name, though the chances are slim I’ll remember theirs.

I remember, “Jersey accent, coffee with his meal, sits at the table on the far right facing the room.”

I remember, “Two coke zeros to-go, always up to the husband who is never well enough to come down.”

I remember, “A tall glass of ice, red walker, her doctor says she can’t have caffeine.”

I wonder sometimes what I’ll be like in my old age and whether I’ll live joyfully, flirting with my husband at the table with me, getting knocked down by the aches and pains, but laughing through it. Or, perhaps, I’ll be scowling and distrustful of the young help, but I’ll be so lonely, no husband to greet me in my apartment, no children to visit me on Sundays.

I love these people, and they astonish me. What stories I will write, taking a piece here and a piece there, a funny smile, a quirk, a name, and I will make them immortal. I will not let their years pass into oblivion, because they have crossed the path of a writer.

Yes, the residents are mostly Trump-supporters and they occasionally get pretty crotchety when things aren’t cooked the way they’d like and the rolls aren’t their favorite kind and “what do you mean, the coke machine isn’t working?”

But, they are so beautifully human, so unadorned with stereotype. I can categorize them no more.


Parents, Love Your Children

Tiny child, hungry for a small voice of assurance, looks into bewildered eyes. These eyes can’t seem to adjust, they blink and blink and try to find themselves in reality. Miracle of life, perfect and in-need, parents feed the child with soft words and hug her close to their chests. These adults, fully-formed in brain and in body do try to conceive of a greater love than this as they smell the rosy cheeks, pinch the chubby folds of kicking legs, peel radioactive diapers from the rashy butt.

But these parents, these humans braced for a life time of unshakable devotion–they forget. As this child grows a brain capable of thought, a mouth capable of speech that stings, a heart full of compulsions that lead her in directions that are firmly at opposite poles of their vision for her, they find no more chubby body to cling to, to smell and kiss, so they grab their dreams and ideals and clutch them fiercely to themselves. They sew protective garments for this new, living doll, stuffed full of expectations and fears. They don’t want to lose, too, these carefully nurtured visions.

But what of the child, once coddled, once adored, once spoken so softly to? She does still feel the phantom arms around her and dream of those words reaching her ears again. A simple, “I love you,” and trembling, tear-soaked hug bulging with hopes for her. This grown-up child still finds those bewildered eyes, but sees in her parent’s arms that eery doll; she feels the incongruity; she desires that they would leave this phantom of her created in their fear and invite her back. Her age has not changed her desire for acceptance, and her age has made her no less deserving of it. Her mind, her heart with lonely, searching calls, they are scared and isolated for fear of the doll, of the clutching, wide-eyed parents, and of herself.

There is no age at which a child feels ready to disappoint their parents. There is no age at which she needs those soft words less than before. But she does grow used to that odd, incongruous doll, and at some point, fears that they love it more than her. She won’t ask them to get rid of it, then. She knows it would hurt them to have to let it go.


Silence is sacred.

She is a ready patience, waiting for the opportunity to be allowed in; She is healing that permeates every clogged, porous cell, stamped dark with the noise of fruitlessness; She is cooling breath on the back of a hot neck, pulsing with angry blood, emotional blood which runs through the brain and into impetuousness. She acts like a cool rag, dampening the heat, healing the visceral wound. She settles over you like calm, blots away impurities like peace. She is sacred. She is ignored.

Though she vies for entry into the collective mind, it buzzes too loudly to sense her outside. It plays its music over the loud speakers in an attempt to numb the perpetual turnings of the sharp cogs, rusted and wretched for revolving too hard and too fast for too long.

She waits, still, outside of bookstores when even the monologue of a well-written page isn’t loud enough to overcome the music. She waits, where grocery carts and milk cartons need distracting from: music is the new silent. She waits, replaced, as desperately churning brains pump music in, trying to focus harder, trying to focus better, while she wishes so fervently that they would know she could do better. She would do better than the noise.

For those that sit, for those that find her in her readiness, they find her inextricable other face. They find that they can listen, that they hear themselves clearer than they ever have, and that they are smarter and more creative than they thought. She reminds them that they are worth listening to, as are the people around them. She reminds them that they don’t need to be afraid of her, for she is not ominous. Silence is accompanied by many noises which make up the panoply of life.

While one shuts off her own voice long enough to listen to the crooning of the world, Silence delights in her tearful acknowledgement of Nature’s music. Silence watches her breathe deeper and steadier, and to the girl, all worldly noises seem louder, seem unnecessary after their brief, but poignant encounter. It is sacred; it is claimed and protected; it is not to be brutalized.

Those that commune with Silence find the world raucous and disrespectful. To find one’s voice so pleasing that it can’t cease is an egregious crime. To find music so necessary to comfort in a quiet room is an expression of fear.

Silence does not blame the wounded for being fearful of the quiet, but she does wish them to give it a try and rediscover their own genius in the stillness.

Experience and the Sponge

Sometimes, when the thick gray air of winter sits on brick towns with painted windows, when old courthouses with cylinder blocks for foundation and the smell of restaurant food and newly paved roads tickles my nose and forces me to imagine worlds into existence, I think:

How wonderful it is to be an artist.

Small things…

-the way the leaves twirl around moving cars in wind shapes like the faery world’s gentle collision with reality

-the way the clouds project the moon from out of the black carpet behind it, concealing, revealing, concealing, so dark they look like midnight dragons on a run through the heavens

-the way caterpillars float, transcendent, I imagine, ecstatic through the air on their silky strings, totally carried by their ingenious invention…and their weightlessness

They make me proud to be an artist. It is these things which fill me up like a thirsty sponge, squeezed dry from the harshness of the atmosphere, from the constricting agenda of hate, smothering, smothering. I eagerly fill myself up on this holy water of this world’s majesty. I drink and drink until I am contentedly wet, ready to purge these beauties out onto other things that are dry.

Yet, sometimes, as I am a sponge, and I absorb, I find that even the filthy water gets in, and I’m already too soaking wet with filthy water to take on anything else.

Yesterday, I printed pictures of a dead woman. Her car was like a flash-frozen, half-melted conglomerate of metal with blood spatter on the ceiling. Children’s toys stretched out over the car, through the air, nestling near the railroad tracks and lying down to rest in the dead, winter grass, broken, wet with mud, dislodged.

I printed pictures of little girls and boys, of big girls and boys, of mothers, of fathers, of friends. Little girl in a blue dress with frills down the front, clippies in her hair as numerous as the twirling braids which stuck off her head like antenna.

I ached. I ached. I ached.

Drunk driver. Too fast. Satin coffin. Orphan family. Orphan friends.

I ached, and I ached.

I found that when I tried to draw breath, my chest was shallow. There was no more room in the cavity which held my non-compliant lungs. I found tears with no logical explanation breaking through my resisting eyes, I felt that the toxic water was so deep in my tissue that I was about to rip myself open to get it all out. I wanted to scream, to scream so loud that it would all come spraying out of me and I would be dry again.

Unfortunately the toxic water didn’t come out. It did, some, purify for a brief moment in the company of friends and laughing and story-telling, but when more toxic water lay itself down on top, urging itself into my widened pores, settling in with the rest, I decided to shut off the tap completely. Nothing will try to fill me up again. Not today and not for now.

So today I am empty. I covered my face with pure bath water so hot it scalded the infection off. I watched videos of things which normally fill me up with healthy water from the world, hoping it could sit on the surface and not move in just yet. I need to be empty for now.

Just let me be empty for now.