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Our covenant with the Earth

“The Poetics of Aging and Dementia” (Dr Nader Robert Shabahangi) reminded me of a time long ago when one night I helped a very frail Elder with eating her pureed meal. She was no longer able to do anything for herself. Her mind was sharp, yet her body was extremely weak. After the meal I tucked her in, wishing her a good night’s sleep. As I was about to leave her room, I said “See you in the morning”. She looked at me with intent – her eyes too big for her small complexion. I knew this was a sign that she was nearing the end of her life, and she said “It is my wish to not see you in the morning. I am tired. I have lived my life and am ready to go.”

I do not remember my reply – most probably I slipped away quietly. It really bothered me though. I sped home on my motorbike, thinking how unfair it is that someone so frail, who really wanted to die, could not just depart this world.

Later that night I relayed this story to my friend James Piek over a bottle of red wine. I was touched, perhaps even angry, by the cruelty of life. I asked James’s opinion of the meaning of a life that is so frail and so desperately wants to opt-out. I will never forget what James said…

“The purpose of her life is to give meaning to your life. If it was not for her giving you the ultimate gift of caring for her, you would never have contemplated the true meaning of life, as you do now. It is her life that gives meaning to yours, that gives you the gift of caring”.

The next morning I rushed back to the Care Home, straight to her room. She was awake, lying quietly in bed waiting for someone to help her. I knelt down on my knees in front of her bed. I told her how happy I was that she was still alive and thanked her for giving me the greatest gift I have ever received – truly igniting my humanity. She gave me a big smile and said “Oh well, in that case, I will hang in a little while longer.”

As Nader points out – old age, and even more so when it is accompanied by forgetfulness or frailty – is the last stanza of our life’s poem. It is the climax, the part that brings together the meaning of this journey. In our mindfulness of our duty to care for our Elders our humanity flourishes. This is not scientific, and no amount of scientific research or medication or technology will ever be able to replace a human touch that genuinely cares. This is where we transcend science, where we become the co-creators of the mystical universe. It is our covenant with the Earth – to make this world a better place. Try it. It will change your life forever!

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