January was the month when we were informed, while in high school, that we would be visiting the Community Centre for the Elderly. We all were so excited at being offered such a unique opportunity. We used to go for picnics, field trips, et cetera, but this was the first time we were given a chance to visit a place for a humanitarian cause. My zest for experiencing different aspects of life that were all educative in their own way made me all the more excited about this experience. I reckon, everyone, especially at that age, is very curious about life. About the life they have heard of, but not seen.
I had only come across one ‘elderly’ relative in my life, until then. The ‘elderly’ relative, back then, was not so old, now that I reflect upon it. She was just in her fifties – my only living grandparent. Additionally, I had not spent much time with her, considering, she had been invited for a visit. Eventually, she was very keen to go back to her beloved country, not because of patriotism but because the strings of her maternal instincts were being tugged at. So, I was very curious, pensive and enthusiastic about the visit we were to make. I could not wait for the day of the visit to come, but I was to wait for two whole months.
Now, it was not every moment until the 16th of March that I wondered and pondered about this trip, the weekly tests and assignments, and homework pre-occupied my mind. Nevertheless, once in every little while I would muse over it, imagining how old the people would be there, would they would like our visit, how their families felt after leaving them there, and so forth. Time flew like a free bird and soon it was the 16th of March. I remember it clearly as I had thought how poignantly well it fit that after the Ides of March, I will visit and meet human beings like myself, abandoned by their own loved ones, at a facility centre.
The complex was a small one catering to around 40 patients at the most. It took really good care of the patients. It was and, I believe, still is the only centre for the elderly, here. Everyone was eager to visit the place. It afforded everyone a chance to look at a different vista of life. A somber, yet a real panorama, beyond the walls of the school.
We reached our destination, no pun intended, via the school bus, loaded with baggages carrying gifts, cards and flowers. As we entered the building, I don’t know if it was my mind playing tricks with me or the air truly was very depressing, initially. I felt a lump in my throat. I stayed back a bit from the rest of the girls to collect myself. I swallowed hard. Life will present us with visuals both joyous and moving, facing them, feeling them, empathizing with them was how we grew as human beings. I coached myself and joined the rest of the group.
Our host – a social worker at the complex – had already started informing the group about the centre. She was surrounded by the group of girls and I could only hear her soft and subtle tone. A cluster of very tall girls was standing in front of me, right at the back. Alas, I had to suffer the consequences of being late. I craned my head to get a glimpse of the spokesperson. I wound my way through the crowd a bit with agitated remarks forming a trail behind me. Finally, I found a perfect spot.
The representative was a young and very pretty girl, with the kindest big brown eyes and without the air of any affectation. She worked there with the staff in taking care of the elderly and some children with special needs. She outlined the goal of the centre that dealt with the health and welfare of the community, specifically of the elderly. It was a home for the long-term patients and a haven for the short-term patients, who were boarded there while their relatives were out of town/country. She then gave us a tour of the place.
The patients were, mostly, really very old individuals. The old who have no light left in their vacant eyes, all awaiting the arrival of death. They did not seem to have an iota of zest for life left in them. I had never seen so many old people in one place in my entire life. Our group of twenty-five full of life, teenage girls were outnumbered by them.
We went to different sections of the centre, where some of the patients were being treated for the inevitable companion of old age, osteoporosis, and at other places were being treated for respiratory diseases, et cetera. A list of age-related maladies and their treatments were going on around the centre. However, none of the patients cared whether they were being treated or not. The expression on their faces was like they were no longer even connected to their bodies or what happened to them.
We were even taken to a section that dealt with seniors in the very last stage of their lives, in semi-coma, oblivious to everything around them, their fingers curled, their toothless mouths drawn inwards and open…ready and waiting for the angel of death to come and suck their souls out; relieve them of their treacherous, disloyal bodies that gave up on them; relieve their loved ones of the burden that they had become for them. Yet, they had no option but to patiently wait for their time to end…If there was peace in death, so be it…
There is no greater malady than old age itself. As youngsters we are impatient with regard to almost everything. We want every single thing to be delivered to us, quickly. Trying to beat the race with time itself. If, we do reach this stage of life, I can only imagine how the helpless waiting would asphyxiate us. But those are mere exaggeration of the imagination. The truth was right, there. If we lived that long enough, we would just live in a similar vegetative state, with lifeless eyes staring at the ceiling, and a lifeless body, all craving for deliverance from the nothingness.
How the passage of life changes with time is such a thought-provoking phenomenon. What we crave for and fear to lose, eventually, as the journey gets longer and we lose our faculties, becomes a hindrance to our soul. That is how transient this life is. That is the perpetual melting state of the temporariness of the whole ball of wax that this life is. I wondered, are our souls, without functioning faculties, constantly feeling strangled in this world? Do the temporary vibrant pleasures of the world work as a disguise to the reality of life? But, of course, it does…
These thoughts swirled in my mind as I absorbed my surroundings. The very thought that these aging, decaying bodies were once full of life, their eyes full of dreams, their hearts pumping with hope, was surreal to me. The reversal of the roles of dependency that they experienced with their children was an added woe. The care providers were now the care needy. They might not have abandoned their children, though, they were abandoned by their children to the care of a government run facility for the local people.
When, we finally reached the end of our tour that concluded with a stop at the section for several children with special needs, my heart weighed a tonne with witnessing another chapter of mankind’s heartlessness. Here was a plight much worse, if possible. We were informed that these children had been abandoned as babies by unknown parents or relatives of a parent. Some were abandoned because their parents could not cope with the idea of having a child with special needs. Others were abandoned for being the fruits of their parents’ illicit relationship.
I sat with one child, around eleven years in age. She smiled at me. I, lovingly, cupped her innocent, sinless face in my hands. Her smile widened and she kissed my hand. The vision of her smiling face became watery for me. My heart ached looking at her and all the other children. I gazed at them and wondered, how could anyone abandon such beautiful, pure, innocent little beings? How could any parent do that? What was their fault? What did they lack that they were not qualified to be linked to their parents? To be called their children? To be part of their own family? They were filled with nothing but love, innocence, care and compassion. They didn’t wish anyone harm, instead cherished the company of anyone and everyone around them. So guileless, so pure…
The condition of the seniors pained me, intensely. However, a thought crossed my mind that they had, at least, lived their lives. Lives that were most probably, around their family members, as acknowledged members of their family. But, those kids were denied their basic birthright. Denied of their own mother’s love and care. Of their father’s protection. Of their family’s warmth and affection. I felt as if my heart was being squeezed out…
We spent quality time with the patients, there. Finally, the time arrived for us to take our leave. I felt guilty for leaving all those lovely, yet, helpless people and going back to life outside. I tried to focus my mind on the abundance of lessons that I learned there and was taking with me. As I exited the gates of the centre, I felt and saw the world with new hues added to it. As I exited, I felt I had aged years and years in those four hours of my life. I had aged emotionally, I had aged intellectually. I felt I had lived the life journey of every face that I beheld in there.
I felt detached from the chatter around me in the bus. My mind still connected to the centre. Upon reaching school our English teacher asked us to write our first thoughts about the trip in the form of an essay. My pen, my hand, my mind, and my heart in concert began writing the requiem for the visit – a visit that aged me…
– SKY –
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