Growing up, I had various favorite dresses at different times and I recall my mum hiding a particular dress from me, when she decided I had worn it out. I did something similar recently, with my daughter. That was what triggered the memory. It is amazing how human memory works.
Thinking of my childhood, I recall so many happy memories and I kind of miss those days. The innocence, the lack of cares or worries, the energy, the ignorance about the complexity of life!
I recall riding my bicycle accompanied by siblings and friends, on a bush path leading to a piggery in our neighborhood, just to see the pigs and feed them. A lonely bush path! If anything had happened to us there, it would have taken a while for people to find out. And that was a trip we made regularly because we loved to watch those pigs. I wouldn’t go there today unaccompanied. Neither would I allow my child to go there, accompanied or not.
We used to wander around the neighbourhood, visiting friends and neighbours, just riding my bicycle around or exploring whatever new interest was available. My children did not have that luxury. They were almost always holed up in our apartment. No playing outside! I don’t regret that though, because our fears as parents were real. Kidnapping, abuse, you never know what could happen.
I used to love climbing trees. We had a particularly tall guava tree at the back of our house. It had a branch that curved like a seat and I would sit there, high up, observing the environment. That was a major advantage of growing up in the countryside. Luxuries that were not available in the city.
Even back then, I used to love books. My mum would buy me books anytime she had the opportunity, the way she bought snacks for others. I loved to read even then. Anything. And we had so many books at home. There was a day I took a book to my father that I wanted to read. I had picked it from the bookshelf in our home. It was a big book, about a particular pope. He told me to wait a few years, that it was beyond my age grade. I still love books today and my house is full of books. I also recently started writing, and soon, I hope to publish my first novel.
It amazes me still, how everything we are is packaged inside us as babies, and they unfold as we grow up in an enabling environment that allows what is inside to flourish and bloom! Not everyone has that opportunity. Some are late developers like me. Some others latch on early enough and are able to make the best use of their gifts. A few others never get the opportunity to become all they dreamed or hoped to be.
The Yorubas have a saying: “Whenever you wake up is your morning”. That is what I am going with, in this season of my life. I find that the things I only dreamed about are slowly becoming my reality. How interesting and encouraging! I am also discovering that in ‘old age’, or as we age, (since I am still in the class that is classified as “young old”), the little things matter more and have more meaning. The ability to add value to other people’s lives matters a lot now. An old person wants to be relevant, to feel needed, to feel important. There is a fear that maybe life can go on without you and you are not needed any more. This thought must be resisted continually.
Sitting by myself recently, I thought of the reality of depression in old age. Hormones are raging, thoughts are all over the place, life is happening, you’re probably less financially stable than you planned or expected and so on, and so forth. I liken this to the adolescence years. While people can understand and relate to a teenager acting up, this allowance is not available to ageing people. They are expected to know better and do better. But the afflictions they face are real and sometimes totally out of their control.
Imagine an ageing man or woman, recently retired, without a job or any real occupation, living alone, on a pension. Or maybe living with a spouse who works. So they are alone for most of the day. Alone with thoughts of the past, alone with regrets, alone with few options of entertainment or occupation. If this is not tackled, depression sets in. TV becomes boring. There’s no one to talk to, who wants to listen to stories of the past? Hindsight presents all errors and mistakes of the past and you see clearly where you made mistakes. The future looks bleak.
In our immediate environment, the ageing are cast aside. They are not reckoned with, appreciated or respected. And that adds salt to an open wound. How does an old person find relevance? Since they have no idea how long they still have left to live, it can be very disconcerting and depressing to be in this limbo. I am exploring these scenarios and looking at what can be done locally to make life meaningful for the old and ageing, so that no one dies while they are still alive.
In developed countries, various options exist for the old. Living a long full life is encouraged and enabled. Here, we behave as if we can’t wait for our old ones to pass away. The quality of life is less valued. In extreme cases, children abandon old parents to their fate. Sometimes, children live too far away in the city. They send money home, but not much else. A lot of challenges on both sides.
These are the things occupying my thoughts nowadays. How can we make a difference? How can we change the conversation? When are we going to have retirement homes or retirement communities in this country? Would it fit into our culture? Would it meet the needs of the ageing and aged? What local, customised alternatives can we create?
If you have any ideas, let me know.