Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
“What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, three legs in the evening, and no legs at night?” — Riddle of the Sphinx.
The answer to that riddle, known vastly to those who have read Greek mythology, is a human being, who walks on all fours as a child, on two legs through it’s youth and adult life, with the help of a walking stick in its old age, and is left motionless at death.
As we pass through life, we witness several physical stages of others’ lives around us. Those of our parents, two or three decades older than us, and those of our grandparents, perhaps half-a century older than us, give or take. Though their presence teaches us a great deal of what to expect when we reach that age, it doesn’t tell us much about what goes on inside their minds. Not till we start looking in the right direction.
I remember, as a child, I was very close to my maternal grandmother, and since both my parents were working, I spent a great deal of my childhood with her. I remember her being a very kind and unwavering person, someone who was exceptionally immune to anxiety. I remember the stark difference in her and my mother’s natures, one calm and composed at all times, the other anxious with a thousand thoughts rushing through her head. From my performance in school to the tax deadlines of the financial year, being a working parent constantly kept my mother on her toes and at the edge of her cognitive limit.
It was a great personal shock to me when, at the end of my final year at senior school, I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease. Even though I was with her through the steady erosion of her mind, I had never personally experienced loss before. It took me a long time to recover from that.
Now, fifteen years later, I am a husband and a working man, sifting through client communications and tax forms, searching for the keys that are in my pocket and forgetting my wallet at work, while my mother, father and mother-in-law spend their post-retirement years at home, gardening and reading books, taking care of their dogs and waiting for a grandchild (my wife tragically lost her dad three years ago, so I unfortunately don’t have the complete set anymore).
Yesterday, seeing my mother sitting in the garden and reading a book, I was suddenly reminded of my grandmother once again, as she would sit and read her beloved Sidney Sheldon novels. I saw the same serenity and calm on her face that I fondly remember my grandmother by. That is when I realized, I am now approaching the stage in life the I remember my mother as from my childhood, and my mother is approaching the phase of her life where work stress is soon to be a throwback.
One thing I understand now, that my grandmother always struggled against, but never let me see it, was loneliness. My coming back from school would always brighten her day, just as it does for any of our parents now, when we spend the weekend with them.
This quarantine, however, has kept some of us apart from our parents and grandparents for some time now. Whether we are stuck in different cities, or trying to protect our elderly from COVID19, they are missing us, constantly. The depression that we feel under lock-down is compounded for them because of loneliness.
Loneliness, even among the youth of today, is a serious precipitant of personality disorders. If it can affect the youth enough to confuse them for a large section of their lives, think of how devastating an effect it would have on the elderly, who have already gone through an entire life of stress, loss, pain, abuse and calamity.
As working people, it falls on us now to take care of them. Not just physically, as money and modern technology have made many avenues to make that part easier. It is their mind and spirit that we need to care for. A text, a call or a video-chat can brighten up their mood, if only for a few hours. “I have a new series you need to watch on Netflix” or “I’ve potted a new plant for your garden” or “I made a new illustration for you” is a beautiful way of telling them that you love them, and even though you aren’t able to be with them physically, you haven’t stopped missing them.
Be the light that pierces the darkness of their loneliness.