Age. Such an immutable as relative number, determining your place in society, determining the expectations put on you, determining the group of your friends, determining your possibilities in life. Here in Germany the first questions people ask you are: “What are you doing?” and “How old are you?”.
School classes are organized in age groups, everybody being a class ahead or behind stands out immediately. The number of age is seriously seen as an mediation of maturity, even if almost everybody knows, that this is not reliable. You are or too young to understand things going on and have a relevant opinion or too old to be able to follow the modern way of thinking. People may listen to you, but they do not necessarily take you seriously.
Like this we avoid grappling with values, ideas of life, etc. that differ from the “Zeitgeist” and neglect big potentials of our society: the freshness and creativity of the young and the experience of the elders.
Being 19 years old I have concentrated a lot on making young people’s voices being heard. I have felt not taken seriously, not being respected, because of being young. Then I visited my grandma.
As always the door of her apartment is open when I arrive. It is a little room filled with an adjustable electric bed, a bedside table, a wardrobe, a table with two chairs and a cupboard with a television. The walls are decorated with self-painted pictures and old photos of family members of past generations. Next to some little statues and some photo albums in the cupboard those are the last things of her personal mementos that remained since the day she left her flat.
My grandma is sitting in her wheelchair and looking out of the window. When I come in, she turns around and smiles at me. She looks even thinner than the last time I saw her. I embrace her. We leave to the small Café nearby. Trying to get out of this place at least a bit. We talk. First about the past days, then about how she is, later about everything else. At a certain point she starts to tell about the past. Maybe about a vacation she did with my mother and my uncle when they were children, or about her childhood or about how she got to know my grandpa. Every story ends with an appeal, a conclusion she has drawn out of this experience after all this time. She is never complaining, just telling, but I learn her life has been hard and often she ends with the words: “But never give up. You always have to keep on fighting.”
That is what she is doing every day. Suffering a lot by her illnesses, she goes on. Piece by piece her autonomy is taken away from her, but she goes on trying. She walked until she fell and had to recognize that she is not able anymore. At good days she is still doing her art, the hobby she has always had. But those days become less and less frequent. She resisted a lot until moving into the old people’s home, she is living in now. There she has no opportunity to cook or decide in any way what or when she is going to eat, she is not informed when staff she has built up a relation with is fired and sometimes they give her medication, that she does not know what it is about. Normally she is treated like a number and every consult she makes or wish she has is an annoying effort.
Yes, she requires nursing. No, she can’t work anymore in a conventional way. From an economic point of view she might be unproductive. But she is a person. She has feelings, opinions, hobbies, wishes, hopes and fears. She has memories, experiences, stories. She sees the things from another point of view, makes other connections and sometimes draws different conclusions. I learn so much being with her. I don’t stay in my little box of thinking, we don’t only multiply one idea, one way of thinking, between each other. We talk and think, silence and consider, respect and learn and enjoy the time we are passing together.
Then the piece of cake is eaten, the cup of coffee emptied and I accompany my grandma back to her room. She embraces me, thanks me for coming. I embrace her and thank her for inviting me, for being the person she is. Then I go. I go and have a feeling of leaving her alone. Alone with people that don’t care much personally about her. With companions that almost all are lonely, hopeless, maybe resigned.
How long will it take until she adapts to the atmosphere in this old people’s home? When will she be part of the loneliness, hopelessness, resignation?
I believe the biggest mistake we are making is to separate society in groups of ages. THE young, THE adults, THE elders. Sport groups for people from 8 – 14, for people from 15 – 18, for adults and for people older than 50. At celebrations a table for the kids, a table for the young, a table for the adults, a table for the elders. In the majority of the cases we do not separate ages, because of regulations. It is an unspoken social rule. It is comfortable to stay surrounded by people that have similar experiences, values, thoughts and so on. But society is made out of all of us and we can only learn from each other and love each other if share time, if talk, if we get to know. Sometimes I have got the impression, that we are all so concentrated in our routine, our work, our tasks, that we miss to see each other. We forget to be in contact. This is very sad, especially for those who are left behind.