I have an elderly friend who lately every time I see him is complaining about getting older. He doesn’t complain in the lighthearted way that people usually complain about getting older. He seems genuinely troubled by where he is and even more so by where he’s going.
He talks about being depressed about it and I feel I have nothing much to offer him as consolation. My most genuine response is that he should seriously consider – as we all should – whether the general patterns of his life is fulfilling to him or whether he needs to shake things up a little.
In his case, he plays crossword puzzles, smokes cigarettes, has lunch and comes home, watches television. Twice-weekly he visits the doctor where he gets an adjustment in medication even though all his numbers are ok.
It seems to me that he’s essentially waiting for the bad news. It’s called Death’s Waiting Room, it’s not a place, it’s a lifestyle. It’s being and remaining passive even though the “numbers are fine” even though the true barometer in your soul is telling you something’s wrong. Just pacing in the waiting room, flipping channels, passing the time aimlessly until your number’s called and you’re ushered through the door. Shit, I think continually living like this would depress anybody.
This lifestyle is in no way limited to the elderly. However, my friend is more acutely aware of his discontent because he’s old. The discontent is a gift. It’s like your body screaming out that a flame is burning your skin – move, move away, now! But consistently ignoring discontent regardless of your age is a dangerous thing. There are teenagers and middle aged and elderly who live this way; passively flipping from Facebook to Instagram and back again, stuck in the loop. We’re all guilty of ignoring the persistent, nagging voice of our discontent to some degree. We sit around waiting for something to jar us out of our passivity. Work, feeding time, doctor’s visits, death.
And to me, there’s nothing more frustrating that that nervous smile that they get on their face when you say, “Well, get up and DO something!” “Yeah,” they reply. “But I can’t.” Tomorrow they have to be at work or wherever.
The old man always talks about how some day he’s going to go to “the Islands.” He’s got a fantastic retirement because of the dues he paid working forty years in a hot coal mine. Miraculously, there’s not a spot on his lungs. He’s on the brink of freedom but he won’t budge from his front porch.
I know that the A Day On approach of taking direction from your inner voice is not for everybody. Maybe the ability do shut out societal demands in favor of the dictates of your inner voice is only possible for certain personality types. There are certainly those who don’t have any use for the ideas put forth on this website. My elderly friend is one of them.
His eyes glaze over whenever I try to talk about anything off the normal “menu” – whatever that may be. He’s an eye roller. If you’re crying out that your drowning and someone from the shore yells “move your arms, kick your feet, move yourself from the place that gives you a sinking feeling to the shore and come have a drink in the cabana – do something.” Maybe you should listen.
Maybe I am crazy, but maybe listening to a crazy person could deliver you from your suffering. The fact is that all of our days are numbered, but statistically, he’s certainly nearing the end of his and it pains me to see that he’s depressed and frightened when all I really think he needs- all any of us need – is to shake things up a bit. Head off in a new direction. Discover and embrace something beautiful.