We begin life as babies completely dependent and vulnerable, relying on others for our most basic needs and survival. Babies are completely present since the concerns of the future and past are nonexistent. They take nothing for granted. Even the existence of the sun, the birds, internal sensations, fingers and toes are subjects of fascination. What’s important at this stage? Nutrition. Sleep. Staying clean and dry. A little entertainment. Perhaps a little exercise. Lots of attention and love.
Necessity and human development eventually expands one’s world to include concerns beyond the necessities of basic survival: how we look, what others think of us, when and how to work or study, home or car maintenance, or our bank balance. The more we become consumed with concerns, the more the basics get overlooked or pushed to the limits. Nutrition may become fast or junk food, alcohol or caffeine. Sleep is an afterthought and stress is a fact of life. Our relationships may be about obligation, status, or convenience and only pursued when all else is done. We’re progressive. We’re evolved. We’re wise. We’re successful. We no longer require others to care for us.
Empowering though it may seem, this stage cannot last forever. We eventually return to the basic needs stage, a fact all too evident at my father’s senior living community. Leaving behind our lives of productivity, independence and concerns, we regress back to the place where the basics once again are paramount. For some, walking or eating feel like victories and become the basis for celebration. There, I am moved or almost moved to tears on a regular basis. Of course. Catastrophic illness or death is a fact of life as the facility also includes assisted living.
But no. There is much more at play in this senior community than physical victories or struggles. What touches my heart is the humanity and gratitude of the residents and staff. While my father and other residents, for example, are physically dependent on a small few in that community, the sense of mutual dependence and support extends into the community at large for both staff and residents alike. The staff takes care of the residents, but they also take care of each other. The residents take care of each other, but also nurture the staff. Outsiders such as myself get to revel in the micro- and macro-moments of love that occur in abundance each day.
This stage of dependence may be as much about attending to the physical as the baby stage. However, it also seems to broaden the element of love and attention to the level of community that somehow seems comparatively diminished in the independent phase. I can’t help but wonder if those so-called concerns (our mortgage, our appearance, our jobs) all too easily disconnect us from our humanity and sense of community.
No. Senior living is not depressing to me at all. The seniors inspire me to live my life as if every day and every person, including myself and the most disabled or ill, count.