Scenes From a Jeep

Scenes From a Jeep

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When Life Gets Small

Jeep scenes typically show something exciting or unique just beyond the iconic hood. By that standard, this scene is admittedly a dud. It's just a parking lot and a building. But before you click away, there is something special happening here. We're at the nursing home, and inside among its residents is a 101-year-old great-grandmother. Her whole world is in there, and lately she's down to about two rooms at that. But when life gets small, granny gets creative, and without having a clue herself, gives us all a little lesson.
Let's first get our heads around 101-years-old. There was no Internet, no jeep blogs, no smartphones, television, or even radio. They didn't have the words for that stuff in 1912. Counting world wars hadn't started yet. The Titanic was floating. The Beatles and Rock-n-Roll sounded like gardening problems, and the Brooklyn Bridge was still a relatively new thing. Travel was rare, and soon after the boat docked in New York City, granny was born. She grew up, went to school, got married, worked, and retired all in the same square-mile town.
It was a small life by today's standard, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It's really a matter of perspective. We all do a small life, at least to start. As babies we know just a few key people, notably mommy and daddy, one or two familiar locations, and some noises that come in handy when we want stuff. No one ever complains that they want more out of life at this point. That's probably because we have what we need, and don't know anything about the other stuff that's out there. And therein lies granny's secret to nursing home living. She's well cared for and has what she needs, and she no longer knows much about anything else. 
Now don't panic just yet thinking we're on the train to depression-ville. There's an upside to what's happening here. Extreme old age certainly has it's sad side, but the way some people adapt to it, knowingly or not, can reveal something good. When a life that starts out small gets that way again when we're really old, our frame of mind can let us still enjoy the ride. As granny would confidently say when she still knew how to do things, “Here's how I do it...”
First, not knowing exactly where she is, or even that she's in a nursing home, she sometimes talks like she owns the place. The theory being, if your world is small, you might as well be the boss. Sitting in the day room, she'll point at the paintings on the wall and say, “I just got that, you like it? We went there last week, and had a lovely time. Next time we go, I'll take you.” Now when you visit in the day room you sit on one of its fine vinyl-upholstered metal chairs. She'll sometimes point to one and say, “I bought two of those. One there and... I don't know where the other one is. I should get more. They're nice. I only get the best.”
 And when the maintenance man comes to change a fluorescent light bulb, she'll pretend she remembers him and the light bulb, saying: “Oh, thank you sonny! I don't know what I was going to do about that!” Then she'll turn to me and say, “He does so much for me whenever I need work done. I'm going to give him a raise next week. You know, I can get you a job here too. I know the head honchos – there's a fat guy and the tall one. Would you like that?” Wow, a job offer! I usually nod yes so we can move on to other topics, but I've considered bringing my resume in case I do ever meet “fat guy” or “tall one”. 
Next, let's say you prefer the good old days when you were the star quarterback or prom queen, but alas, those days are gone. For that, granny uses what I call “geriatric time travel”. When you want, you can just go back. It's that simple. A few years ago when she was still understanding and responding to questions, we'd ask things like “What year is it?” - “1943!”, and “Who's the president” - “Roosevelt!” Baffled at first, we realized that 1943 was her happy time. Her son was born and her husband hadn't yet gone off to war. And that's where she is now. Not a bad deal.
Finally, when your world gets small, try to think like it's still big. We saw her demonstrate this advanced technique with a flower arrangement. Granny always loved gardening, so on one visit we brought a vase with some spring flowers. We knew she'd enjoy it, but had no idea how much. We put the vase on the table in front of her. She grabbed it immediately, almost pulling it off the table to get in closer. “Ooooh! How beautiful!” She then gave it a quarter turn and did a double-take: “Oh, I can't believe this! Look at that one!” Another quarter-turn, another reaction. Then again, and again, until she had spun it around several times, seeing the same flowers as if for the first time on each spin. This went on for hours as she almost forgot we were there. We simply kept the vase on the table as she pulled on it like she wanted to jump in. That bouquet appeared to her as 2-acre garden terrace. I probably could have used that trick in my old studio apartment. “Ooooh! So spacious with many rooms and closets!”
Despite this unexplained ability to adapt, seeing what old age does to once young and vibrant people naturally makes us a little sad. But it's encouraging to see someone like granny take a small life and somehow make it a good one. So remember her ways and learn from them. They'll work in your big world now, and later on if your world shrinks back down. Always act like you own the place, make now your happy time, and find ways to make a small life feel big.

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