(August 5th, 2015)

I find myself wishing that separation wasn't inevitable, that the old could parallel the new, that life could be a continuum of increasing intimacy to people and places instead of a choppy mix of half-homes and incomplete relationships.       - McCullough Inglis

This week a thought I had thought before returned to me. I have very few senior friends. I'm guessing this isn't uncommon for people my age. This thought wormed into my head and I started thinking of the seniors I know or have known. It is a short list. I count four grandparents and Ben and Pink of Ben Street. There are some relations that are becoming seniors but I don't want to count them just yet. And past that I start drawing blanks. Yes, of course, I've met other seniors, but I don't think we ever shared any experiences. And what is meeting someone? I think relationships, even simple friendships, come from sharing something.

I wish I could tell you a story about a crotchety, but charming, older woman who lived in my building. I would love to tell you about how we met every morning for a quick bit of conversation about the weather or what a third party was doing too noisily at night in the building. I would love to say that sometimes I help her with heavy things and on Thursday nights she makes a mean martini. Or maybe I would tell you about how I accidentally met an older man and now we share coffees and mild adventures on Thursday afternoons. He would tell me about his son who lives far away and I could tell him about the women I chase. And as we finished the lattes he we walk off to bingo and I would head back into work. I would love to tell you about these shared moments. But I don't have them.

I don't think any seniors live in my building. Maybe not even on my block. I live next to a nunnery yet they are young women. If ever you were supposed to find old women with strong opinions and stern looks it was in nuns, correct? Clearly TV has mislead me. The sisters next door play basketball and rollerblade and grill out in the back yard.

I live on the upper east side - the capitol of senior living in NYC. I'm starting to get suspicious that my senior neighbors are not getting out and about that much. I hope they aren't lonely. But I'm sure some are. Loneliness is a big problem for many in the senior community. When work stops there are less reasons to be out every day. When mobility is more challenging it is hard to get out. When family and friends are few and far away it is hard to see, to known, and to share life. But who am I kidding. Loneliness is a problem for almost all of us at times.

I love living alone. But at times it can be a bit lonely. I can spend many hours of my day working alone. Often I'm the only one in the room. I go long stretches without speaking (I know, I know, you can barely believe it). And then I go home. I cook alone. I eat alone. I ignore the paperwork building up alone. And finally the clogged up words get spit out right here on the blog. I like my little apartment. I like having it to myself. But it can be lonely.

I remember an old priest talking about how he loved to live alone. He is an Episcopal priest so his solitude is a choice. He said that most days he is desperate to get home and be alone. Most days. Only on days when something really good or exciting has happened does he feel lonely. Good news, he said, wants to be shared. I understand. But I'd go one further. Ridiculously bad things are great for sharing too. Every adventure whether camping, or paddling, or riding that went south, really any mishap that turned the day upside down begs to be told too.

In the sharing of stories, of experiences and of life there is knowledge. We want to be known. I want to be known. And yet life moves us apart stretching both distance and time and it is hard to maintain. And life takes people away completely. Things are lost. We are never known in the same way again.
What's left is only bittersweet
For the rest of my life, admitting the best is behind me
Now I'm drunk and afraid, wishing the world would go away
What's the point of singing songs
If they'll never even hear you?
                        - Sufjan Stevens
My world has splintered and shrunk now a few times in this final stretching. I can only imagine the fragments that seniors hold. I can only imagine the fragments I will hold as well. What is loneliness like when you are known by no one? What happens when at the other end of the phone they can not answer?

I suspect I struggle with loneliness about as much as the average person. And fortunately when I feel a bit too quiet in my apartment I can easily go out. I can call up friends and find where the fun is happening or make a little fun happen. It is great to have mobility and nearby friends with energy. The same can not be said for many seniors.

Loneliness is tough enough for those living independently and in good health and near friends. But loneliness runs wild and free in many institutional homes. Visits are rare and the days are long. And all the charms and quirks of one's personal life have been replaced by the simply effective all streamlined, sterile, and safe. I think that is why I was so surprised when I visited H.O.M.E. in July. It wasn't a lonely place.

H.O.M.E. isn't providing some industrial living situation set up for ease of the care givers and maximizing economy. H.O.M.E. is actually just providing safe and affordable apartments in a wonderful building so that seniors with very little income don't end up in shelters or in nursing homes or worse. It is a very basic need. I didn't realize that it was going unmet for so many.

Housing, no matter how nice or affordable, or doesn't fend off loneliness. Yet I saw something else at the Nathalie Salmon House too. I saw a book written for a young child. It was about learning to use the potty. It was probably the property of the youngest resident in the building who was about to reach an important milestone. H.O.M.E. creates community in many ways. But by far the most amazing is that HOME invites younger people and young families to live side by side with seniors. HOME is intergenerational. Everyone can use all the joint spaces in the building like the gym and the game room and the social room and the library. What does this mean? Meals are shared. Homework is shared. Stories, memories, good news, and ridiculous adventures can all be shared. And people, young and old, can know and be known.

It seems to work at H.O.M.E. Perhaps the residents that I met were just really good actors. But I think they did know each other and get along well - which is more than I can say for me and my neighbors. I really wish there were more places like H.O.M.E. And I'm so glad that we can support their work. Will you donate today? Don't forget to write "marathon" in the notes!

No comments: