Saturday 7 December 2013

Aging gracefully

There are supposedly four stages of life – childhood, young age, working age, and retirement age. Many books teach us what we are supposed to DO in each of these stages. I think that the most important thing to learn is what we need to BE in each of these stages. As a child, we are expected to be naive, inexperienced; as youth, we need to seek knowledge, learn the ways of the world; in our adult working years, we need to maintain the enthusiasm of a child, and at the same time be responsible for the world that we create around us. It is in the final stage of our life, when we are expected to retire, we are supposed to be severing our ties with the material world. In the old days, one would be expected to disappear into the woods or the Himalayas. In today’s world, we need to stay home and in a place like India, most of the older people stay with their families. My father always used to say that you need to learn how to give up the control of the house and let someone else make the decisions. This is the hardest transition for most of us.

In this stage, each of us could be the child that we once were. My father became a knowledge hungry student. He read every newspaper, book as though he was preparing for an exam. He would analyze, interpret, and write his own articles and books. He stayed mostly with my sister and brother-in-law in India, but visited me. He let me drive him around, introduce him to my friends, and integrate him into my life as a mother would integrate her son. He asked for books he wanted, made me take him shopping for his favorite kind of shoes (off-white shoes with Velcro instead of shoe laces), books, and different colored pens – simple stuff that a kid would want. He did not interfere with my day to day life but was always there when I wanted to cuddle or discuss something that troubled me.

And my aunt became a child who wanted everyone around her. She would call each of her kids and grand kids on a daily basis wanting to know their routine, she would play along with her grand daughters, and laugh heartily reminiscing old times. She lost her eyesight for the last few years of her life, and yet did not lose her sense of humor. She would let her grand kids dress her up and take photos. She went along being their favorite baby. Her granddaughter Syama would dress her up as a dacoit, or a little girl, or any type of a character, and she always played along.

In her life, she experienced many injustices but was always strong. She was passed over for a promotion to be Head Mistress just because she was a woman. She did not get mad and walk away but stayed and showed the management that they could not ignore her. She ran it with authority, grace and integrity. As an aunt, she was affectionate as well as strict. I remember her hearty laughter, but the person that I saw with her grand daughter was a person I did not know. I loved the way she developed even a greater sense of humor and enjoyed her time as a kid who would be happy to let others dress her and have fun. Even when she could not see, she let others see her in the best form.

My aunt as a pirate

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