I just got back from a trip to Duluth, MN. I had never been to the mid-west before. Nor had I ever spent four days in a retirement community. Nor had I ever spent four days with people who were all 70 years old and up. Nor had I ever spent four days with someone over 100 years old; my Great Aunt Kay.
You may think this is a post about my unbelievable Aunt (102) who cooked a meal for me, has all (every single one) of her whits about her, cracks jokes, remembers everything, is surgery free, lives independently in her own apartment (within the retirement community), does all her own care-taking, dresses herself in activity appropriate garb (going out to dinner, going out to the lake, ladies' luncheon, etc), can see just fine (glasses), can hear just fine (speaking up a little bit helps though), and who has found a way to hold on to her lengthy past, while being progressive and modern in her present self. But, this post isn't about her.
I spent four days amongst people on the other end of life's spectrum; some observations.
- for the most part, the ego falls away. people still have sense of self of course, and they incorporate their own style into things, but there isn't the same level of jockeying going on. people are coming to terms with their arc, and there just isn't room for the silly stuff.
- appreciation for "the day" is at an all-time high. everyone was attuned to nature, and stuff like weather becomes a big part of things.
- we build out our respective worlds to fit whatever environment we're in. this retirement community was a little city within itself. "restaurants," place of worship, entertainment rooms, a cafe, courtyards, etc.
- no surprise, but things just slow down. as someone that moves around fast a lot, I completely embraced this new pace. it was pretty darn nice I must say.
- of course the residents I came in contact with were a skewed sample set of people who were interested, and able, to be out-and-about in the facility. it made me think of all the people in their apartments who weren't coming out. some of them just weren't as social. some of them were in physical conditions preventing them from scooting around. some of them were probably depressed.
- most of the residents are single (largely because their partner had passed away).
- hobbies become king.
- things we "share" as humans become the baseline for relationships. the weather. our community. the local restaurant. simple "hello, how are you?"s. empathy for each other's situation.
- one of my favorite moments was in a conversation with Kay about the internet. she was trying to get her head around various market aspects/dynamics of it, and at one point asked "are there other answering services out there other than Google?" 1) I loved that Google was an "answering service." 2) I loved that she was teasing out the "answering service" landscape; she was exploring.
Living there for a few days while visiting Aunt Kay was an amazing experience. I got a glimpse of the other side of our life arc. It wasn't sad or necessarily scary. It was a handful of days that just "were" and where everything just "was." All of our little circumstances had long since fallen away, and everyone was in this band of time out of time, existing.
Makes me wonder what the hell all of us in the middle are doing. Also makes me want to live life to the fullest, while I can.