I visit Hank weekly and wonder at his response to my greeting, “How are you?”. His predictable but genuine response is “marvelous”. Hank lives in a nursing home and has one relative who visits briefly a couple of times a month. Otherwise, Hank is left to his own devices. Somehow he accomplishes, with few external resources, being marvelous.
I marvel and wonder what enables Hank and others in the nursing home to cope, what keeps them going and gives their lives meaning. Most older people have a sense of spirituality and/or a religious affiliation, but many elders I know seem to have a simple appreciation for “in the moment” living even without a religious or spiritual foundation.
Hank is marvelous. He teaches all of us who have the fortune to encounter him that life’s challenges lie not in what happens to us, but in how we deal with those challenges in our day-to-day moments.
Many people tend to pity older people and keep a distance from them. Visits are often seen as an obligation rather than a source of pleasure. Perhaps those who travel into their older years are to be envied. Does that fact that they have little future left give them the freedom to be more fully in the present?
The role of philosophy, religion and spirituality in aging and its impact on health and wellness is a growing focus of research. I don’t have a clear insight into the secret of inner peace that I see in so many of the elders I encounter. I believe, however, that it has something to do with the ability to gracefully exchange “being” for “doing.” My time with elders is a reminder that if I can’t make a wholesale exchange, perhaps I can find a bit more balance between the two.
Sharing time with an elder, allowing ourselves to simply be with them in the moment, can indeed be a gift and a reminder to look for that balance in our daily lives.