I'm a Bahai and we believe in non-involvement in politics (it's the divisive party-political version we avoid; we're very caring and involved otherwise). So I won’t mention Donald Trump. But there’s not much else on the box here. I've found that when you're still relatively young (well, turning 70 in 2 short years, but time's all relative, isn't it. Isn’t it?), and when you can't drive or walk and you get tired doing pretty much anything after 20 minutes, it's a real challenge just to pass the time. Aah, I hear you sighing, having limitless time to oneself, time to lie in bed for as long at you like, meals brought to you and washing done, time to read all those books you always promised yourself; what bliss! Just like being at some fancy all-services-laid-on resort!
Yeah, it's just like that. Did I mention that my vision can't cope with too much reading? I tried every semi-literate ‘talking book’ in the city library (that’s Audio Book for you fancy millennials), but found it too frustrating trying to save where I'd got up to, and so I kept having to listen to the same sections again and again. Oh, I hear you thinking, doesn't she know that if she just presses this button and fast-forwards with that one that's connected to the other one, and then turns it all off for half an hour and remembers to back it up again... GO AWAY! I know all that sounds easy to you and it probably did for me too before my 2 mini-strokes, but now this ex-teacher and graphic designer even has to find out how to make the shapes of particular letters of the alphabet or numbers by looking for something, anything, with writing on it, that I can copy. Yep, that particular memory chip's been well and truly corrupted.
No, wait. Come back. I'm sorry for being so rude and complaining, and if I lose my patience, as well as some other lost faculties I won't mention, I'll really be in trouble. So I'm going to use my experience profitably by giving you a Guide to Rest Home life, since there's a good chance you'll end up here too.
I find that it's not all hard going if you can medicate at least some of the grinding pain away for a while, and keep your sense of humour and compassion. There are lots of curious and fascinating and rewarding things going on. The lady in the room next door thinks that she and I are the only ones in the facility who have whole apartments to ourselves (even though she's been in my room and must know it's pretty much the same size as the others). She believes that she and I both get 'dressed for dinner' unlike the others - what she calls the Hoi polloi - who clearly do not 'dress' for dinner, much less change their raggy old pyjama bottoms. This immaculately groomed, well-intentioned lady wanders the grounds complete with a stylish floral parasol, and is glad to have my company as the only one left who is not entirely insulted by her belief that only she and I have the right to sit in the adjoining lounge, since to her it is an 'extension' of our two private apartments.
I like to say hello and introduce myself to each new and more communicative resident, so they’ll remember and know there’s someone familiar there that they can go to if necessary. I’ve found a small few that I've been able to have a more elevated connection with. One unlikely man arrived at my door one afternoon and, after much grunting and gesticulating, I was able to establish that he'd found one of the Baha'i books I'd put in the small resident's library, complete with small prayer book to keep, and a note to say how to find me if the reader would like to know more. Although his speech impediment made our attempts at discussion almost incomprehensible, he gratefully accepted the few books I offered at his request, and now I keep returning to find he has read all the copies I've shared and has even completed the considerable tome that is "The Dawn-Breakers"; let's be honest; lots of devoted Baha'i's don't get to read the whole thing ever.
One of the most intelligent residents is an author like me. Yes, we are not all dribbling and incontinent. Well, not all the time anyway. I met him when a nurse, who knew of my counselling background, came to me with a problem. Her newest admission was a previously strong, but now desperately suicidal, man who was not able to be constantly monitored by the limited staff to stop him from harming himself. Could I, she wondered, meet with him and see if I could be of any help? I told her that I used spiritual principles in my counselling but if she was happy with that, I would be only too glad to be of use. He also had a degree of speech impediment but fortunately not as advanced as the previous man. For two weeks we had a daily hour-long meeting while he explained how he felt that the effects of the stroke had rendered his entire life meaningless, since he was now unable to walk, type or even speak without difficulty. (C’est moi! - that’s French for Ditto! - I thought to myself at this point, except my speech problem is the opposite; my GP won’t need to take my pulse to measure the point of my death; it will be that moment when I finally stop talking.) And so, this man believed, his whole career and life purpose as a contributing member of society was ended. In getting to know this witty cynic, I explained that I used Bahai spiritual principles but did not intend to discuss the Faith as a religion, unless it was something he wanted to learn about once our two-weeks of formal counselling was completed. Fortunately our exploration of these principles was able to lift his spirits and give him a wider sense of true life purpose.
It helped that like him, I too was unable to travel without a wheelchair, and had clearly experienced having my own sphere of usefulness in the world entirely up-ended by developing M.S. although I’d faced that life challenge from my 30’s; a very much younger age. Right from the outset he was interested to read the books I had written and to discuss their ideas although, coming from an atheist Semitic background, he was not immediately sympatico with it all. However, we seemed to share the same wry cynical humour and that was enough to make a special bond between us. He has since jointly published another book in company with some seriously brainy guys, so I think its fair to say that, after much admirable effort on his part, his life is taking off again.
Then there’s the elderly man who’s the dad of a friend of a friend who’s a daughter of a Baha’i. I like him as a good bloke, although recently I haven’t been well enough to visit as much as either of us would like. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool Catholic, with so many portraits of the Pope - the good old pope, he says to me, not the fancy replacement one – that you feel like you’re being watched and about to be ordered to drop and say 40 Hail Mary’s, but he’s also the kind that likes a nice tipple and a good yarn. I sometimes get the feeling that he likes the ladies, but he’s too much of a gentleman to do anything about it. At his age! He’s a typical kiwi-farmer-type, tells it like it is (well, like HE thinks it is) which clearly allows no room for Baha’i, and he still enjoys my company, despite acting like I’d told him I was an alien being when I mentioned I was one.
Finally, there’s the ‘threesome’; separate people when they first arrived. The ‘good-looking for his age’ man enjoyed the company of both women for an idyllic few weeks, at which point he developed a sudden territorial appreciation for the prettier of the two. This didn’t sit at all well with the first woman, who was obliged to observe in silent helplessness (along with all the other facinated residents) as romance grew, all watching as this real-life soap opera unfolded and the two slowly drew their dining room chairs ever closer together, to gradually become completely inseparable. Then the entire rest home was shocked (and delighted) when she silently moved into his room one night and from there didn’t budge. The torrid relationship was brought to a sudden end when she unexpectedly died. So the two remaining singles quickly rekindled the embers of early possibility, only for him to have a major stroke. Today I sometimes see her sitting silently at his side, his aged hand lying motionless in hers, quitely relishing that in the end it was she who was the victor.
There’s never a dull moment if you pick the right rest home! And there's so much more I could tell you, but I’m not the gossiping type. Actually, I’m really quite a recluse and seldom emerge from my room unless there’s a distressed resident who needs someone to just sit with them and listen with respect and compassion. I don’t join the others in the lounge who are singing those good ole wartime songs, or are batting around a balloon to keep up dexterity, or the other little (but purposeful) games they play. I lie on my bed in the soporific sunlight and cruise along to easy-listening music, or I silently meditate for long stretches of time, or keep up with a little easy yoga, or work on my present Memoir. But right now my hands are tired and I want to lie down. To watch Al Jazeera. In my private suite. With staff to serve my every need, whilst I wonder what the chef is preparing for my special vegetarian meal.
I’ll save a bed for you...