I like the idea of nursing homes for the elderly. (keep reading before you assume what’s next)
Typical responses to this statement are gasps and looks of contempt thrown my way. “How could you say that Adam, those are horrible places?” To clarify, I’m not talking about the hole in the wall; nasty places the media has made seem like are the majority of nursing homes. I am talking about assisted living communities. My liking of such communities is that it is a response to a bigger problem. The problem is the elderly are far too often forgotten and lonely. These small types of communities fill the void left by our individualistic society.
We have an elderly neighbor who walks her dog past out house a lot. Actually we have a lot of elderly neighbors, we live on a cul-de-sac and are the youngest people in the neighborhood, so we see a lot of traffic from folks walking dogs, riding bikes, or taking leisurely strolls. We are only the 3rd owners of our home and it was built in 1960, there are still some original owners around the ‘hood too! Point being there are lots of old folks around. This exposes an essential dilemma our society and neighborhood faces that burns me up.
While walking her dog one of our elderly neighbors mentioned in passion to my wife that she needs her gutters cleaned, in response to seeing me on my roof cleaning ours. Julia (my wife) let me know and my immediate response was to catch her the next time around the cul-de-sac and offer my help. I went over and cleaned her gutters out, it may have taken me a total of 20 minutes in work, however I probably spent an hour over there, talking. This is not to elevate myself or brag about some great feat I feel I’ve accomplished though. My question the entire time walking across her roof, as I bent down to clean the gutters, was simple, “Where is her family?”
This is a story I see and hear all too often. Elderly folks who are lonely so when someone else stops by or makes conversation it is obvious they are lonely and need help in some areas, whether that be yard work, cooking, cleaning, etc. I have no problems doing it and actually think that is what community is for. I may be a bit of a romantic when it comes to neighborhoods and small communities. I have family members who live within 20 minutes of my grandmother and see her as often as I do. The sad part about that is I live 1800 miles away and come home maybe twice a year. I keep myself awake at night worrying about the elderly population that has been forgotten and pushed towards the fringes of society. There is an inner sadness that fills me that I wish others could see.
This same shadow touches the opposite end of the spectrum as well. How many boys from fatherless homes do you know? A boy from a fatherless home is not a new storyline, something society is not familiar with, but the way we treat it is as if it is a small, isolated, or rare event. How many boys could profit from having a positive male role model/friend in their life? I have a “Little Brother” I’ve been with since he was 7. He turns 13 this year. I have seen him grow and become a young man I am proud of. Grades have taken huge leaps and even his personal confidence has grown. I’d like to think a little of that has to do with our relationship.
I feel a responsibility, almost indebted to, for others. Not in an unhealthy controlling way, but a way that I think narrows in on part of humanity our culture has undervalued and, from what I’ve experienced and seen, overlooked. We are our “brothers” keepers. A community does not flourish because of individuals alone. The succession of any community, business, or team is in the individuals supporting one another and becoming an organism rather than isolated cells. The meshing of cultures and individuals is what makes our world beautiful. This beauty is overshadowed by selfishness and individualistic thinking. No man is an island, nor should he be. Can you see the darkness of individualism in your community? Do you have an elderly neighbor? Is there a mother of 3 raising her kids alone down the street? Couldn’t you shoot some hoops with one of her boys? Maybe cleaning out gutters isn’t your thing, which is fine, but are you willing to metaphorically roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty for the sake of others? Do you feel any sense of responsibility for others? If not, why? If so, what are you doing about it? I think this conversation needs to be made space for and discussed more openly today. The shadows of our neighborhoods would soon lift and let the sunshine of a resolute humanity in. The chains of individualism and selfishness would liberate a flourishing community. All these nostalgic and poetic images begin with one thing, you. What’s your response?