There's something I really love about visiting my dad at his independent living facility, where the general age of most residents is probably in the 80s and 90s. I most especially discovered this when I stayed with him at the place for three months after my mother passed away, but it's reinforced every time I'm here, usually for a couple of weeks. It's that you learn a seriously valuable lesson in life about patience. You learn not to slow down, because running around or even walking fast can cause problems is someone is ahead in the hallways -- even if you pass them safely at a brisk pace can surprise them and risk their falling (which is extremely problematic at that age). You also learn to that you should expect to repeat yourself numerous times. And mostly you learn to be prepared to hear the same stories over and over and over, endlessly -- often during the course of a single meal.
There's an absolutely lovely fellow here, sharp and active, who's in her upper 90s, who has told me about his grandson the lawyer about 30 times. At dinner the other night, he asked five times when I thought my dad who be released from the hospital. (The answer was, of course, the same each time. I'd think a moment and then reply, "I'm not quite sure, it might be tomorrow, though they might want to just observe him for another day.")
I'm not remotely being facetious about this being a great learning experience. There really does seem to be something Zen-like in pausing and composing yourself and either listening as if it's the first time or coming up with an intensely polite way to cut a very long story short by explaining that you believe you may know how it ends, as if it's such a great story you're glad to have had it brought up again.
Yesterday, there was about as good an example of this as I've come across. From another perspective, it might have made a great sketch on SNL, But I liked that it was more one of those occasions that helped reinforce the learning experience of Zen and put one's training to good use.
I had gone to the mail room alcove and saw that a resident appeared to be having some difficulty getting into his mailbox, though I couldn't be sure and didn't want to pry. Eventually, though, he was getting more frustrated and spit out something about them "making these goddamned things so difficult." I've seen him before over the past couple years, so I knew he was well-experienced with the mailboxes here, so maybe it was just one of those bad days when all cylinders aren't firing. I walked over to see if I could help, and immediately saw the problem.
For reasons inexplicable, he was using his room key card and trying to jam it in a non-existent slot. "Are you having some difficulty? I asked, and he grumbled again about the thing not working. His hands were full of items he may have pulled from his pockets, one of which I could see was his mailbox key that was on a wrist chain. I suggested he might try that.
He took me up on it...though rather than just slide the key into the slot, he (for reasons inexplicable) tried to first take the key off the chain. Something that was causing no end of difficulty. So, I offered to help out, if he'd like me to. He was more than happy to let me, and handed me the key.
He had been trying to open box 427, I believe, so I went to open it. "You're box 427, right?" I asked, and he said yes, he was. As I was about to insert the key, I heard him mumble in an annoyed voice that seemed to lay the blame for all this with bureaucracy, that it actually should be 407, since that was his room number.
"Well, let's try 407, then, okay," I said. And yes, the mailbox opened. As I handed him his mail, he was so pleased that it all worked out so well. We said our goodbyes and happy holiday greetings.
And as I wandered off, I could only hope that this was indeed one of those random very, very senior moments, because otherwise he's going to have a whole lot of mail building up in his little box. (Fortunately, there are always other people wandering into the room to help...)
I just think, though, that if everyone had to spend six weeks a year at a senior residence, the world would be a much more beatific place.
The elves taking care of the homestead back in Los Angeles took a very different lesson from the story, I must admit and I have a feeling that they were writing it up as a sketch...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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