He stands there, stark naked, oblivious of the people who are trying to steady him. I happen to be one of those people. “He” happens to be my father-in-law. We are trying to clean him up after his bowels disengaged because of a disruption within his fragile body.
“Oblivious” defines my father-in-law’s state of mind these days. He is oblivious to the people who are screaming at him, hoping that their loud voices will make him listen to reason. He is oblivious to the care-giver who pleads with him to step out for a while to activate his sleeping legs. He is oblivious to his son – my husband, who tells him that most of the strange people he is talking to, live only in his imagination. He is oblivious to my mother-in-law who sets up things for him, hoping he would become more mindful, and require less attention. Yes, my father-in-law is oblivious to everything.
Never, in my 39 years of life on this beautiful planet, would I have ever thought that I would be sharing space with an 84 year-old child. There I was, thinking people are supposed to grow wise with age. I still think that way.
That is also why this whole thing is difficult.
It is excruciating to care for an old child. The old man is stubborn. Sometimes, he feigns ignorance, even when it is very visible that he can understand what we say. During these times, it appears as if he feigns his state of oblivion too. It is mighty nasty of him to do that to us, and we find it difficult to reign our temper in.
My father-in-law is disturbed. It is usually how it is with the Parkinson’s that he is carrying within him. His disturbance, disturbs us. There is a lot of unofficial pressure to be around him, and be nice to him. I have now put a name to this unknown – it is called culture. It is also called humanity.
Because of my father-in-law, I have understood how difficult it is to be human, and sometimes, being human is, by itself the greatest challenge of life.
That is why it is difficult to care for him, despite half the job being outsourced to a third-party care-giver.
Never in the 15 years of being married to the same person, would I have thought that it would be my father-in-law who would disturb the equations at home.
He was the calmest man I had ever come across. He was also the one who walked the longest distances in the family. Now, not only has his ability to walk betrayed him, so has his calm.
My father-in-law is a lost child.
My husband says, life, comes a cycle, and it is natural for the old to grow young in their minds. I have a different opinion.
Have you noticed them volcanoes – how they build up on the magma, that is, until they don’t. To me, it feels as if they silently plug-in the heat growing within, until they cannot help it. Then, one day, the lid blows off.
Except that volcanoes don’t have plugs or lids, do they?! Well, neither do us, humans. So why do we reign in our feelings so much, all the time?!
Every natural disturbance is the result of a build-up. The volcanoes, the earthquakes, the hurricanes, there is no magical appearance anywhere. We just don’t see them growing underneath, coming for us. They hold on for as long as possible, until they can’t.
I think it is the same story with my father-in-law. Right through his life, he has felt his share of disturbances. I have heard the stories, and I know that there is a build-up that exists within.
And, going by all the calm claims that his family make about him, I reckon he has kept his magma to himself, locked tight, inside his Pandora’s box. It has taken the loneliness and frustration of Parkinson’s for his mind to unlock his own box of troubles.
I advocate a mindful balance in the expression of feelings. I wish that this old man’s generation had not been so uptight about their manners and emotions. I wish the adults were allowed to blow their lids, once in a while. My father-in-law would have been a more considerate old man today. He would have been more considerate towards himself, his body, his soul. He would have been wiser, despite the Parkinson’s, as all of age should be. He would have tried to find his calm, instead of making it up.
Calm is for the monks, whose internal calm is a reflection of the external calm that they are surrounded by. Check out the monasteries, if you don’t believe me.
For you and me, calm is a dare. It is something that needs to be reached for, after a long-hauling day of work, after long-hauling disturbances to sane routines, after long-hauling lives that have been lived to the fullest. We live away from the monasteries. We live away from calm situations. For you and me, finding peace and calm, is the challenge.
And we ought to find them with age.
For my father-in-law, calm is a facade that masks a deep disturbance.
At this point, I only wish for my father-in-law and others like him to reach out for their calm, and hope that they are able to make peace with the disturbance that exists within.
Here’s to living through well-being, and ageing into wisdom!