(Published in Opinion page of Khaleej Times dated 20 Dec, 2022)
I am astonished by the way the challenges that come with different stages of life change our perspectives and the people that we presume to be. I have watched with surprise how my belief systems shifted with time and long-held notions realigned themselves to suit the demands of a dynamic life cycle.
Take a moment to consider how the concerns we had to cope with when we were younger have either been mitigated or have stopped plaguing us by now. By our resolve or by their own natural course, old issues have settled, and new things have sprung up clamouring for our attention.
Each age comes with its own set of problems, and as years pass, I am recalibrating my thoughts about what the bard describes as the second childhood of man. As I see many of those I know grappling with the severities of old age, I am beginning to think about geriatric troubles and their possible solutions very differently. Of particular concern to me is the way old age brings solitude and seclusion into one’s life, especially for those whose children are away and are caught up in their own battles and are unable to provide a lasting solution to their parents’ remote living.
To many aged people, life becomes a monotonous routine and when the body and mind begin to wither consistently, a deep disillusionment sets in. I have noticed that the degree of despair is only slightly lesser in the case of couples. Their mutual company mitigates some amount of physical loneliness, but their combined sense of alienation is often apparent in their manner.
It was in this context that I had strongly endorsed the concept of senior citizens’ homes in one of my columns some years ago. I had viewed it as a feasible solution to the sense of isolation that comes with old age. Living in the company of people of their own ilk might probably spare them a feeling of being just fragile fragments of existence and give them a sense of unified living.
However, I am second guessing my opinion now, with many people I know finding it less than pleasurable to be in a community where angst and ailments galore and the atmosphere is blue with their collective afflictions. When old age is still in its infancy, when the physical and mental faculties are still good to go, these retirement homes provide ample scope for a robust living. But as health deteriorates and individual woes worsen, there is a longing to return to family settings. Therein lies the rub. Children are away and the parents cannot relocate to foreign shores. To them, each day spent alone becomes an albatross.
It is this scenario that makes me think of a new arrangement in old age. How will it be for aged siblings to join as an extended family and spend the rest of their lives together, either under one roof or next to each other? The merits of such an arrangement is too obvious to state. From company to care, from sharing of chores to common interests, from partaking in one another’s laughter and tears, the wonders it might do to the quality of old age inspires me.
One might be skeptical about its workability considering how far apart we have all grown with our individual pursuits and priorities, how we have all created our private spaces that cannot be infringed, how we have cleverly learnt to mask our misunderstandings, how we have perfected the art of bonhomie amidst undercurrents of discord and how the nuclear nature of our lives have made us overly self-protective.
Yet, when the active business of life has stalled, when the pursuits have ended, when all there is to life is the present moment, will there be anything left between siblings to spar and dispute? I am unable to see that far and fathom it clearly.
It is my deepest belief that if we only spend our dynamic years planning for this final settlement, if we don’t let time rip the childhood bonds, if we part with a promise to meet again in the end as stilt and support to one another, won’t we be able to pull it off better?
Many of us may have missed the bus already, but it might still be a good idea to instill this thought in our children so their hearts may remain genuinely fonder towards each other through the years, firm in the thought that when they rest their tools, they have a herd to return to - one which they were born into, and one from which they would depart too.