An elderly woman sits in her spacious living room surrounded by comfortable, yet starkly empty, sofas and armchairs. An array of family photographs, alongside ornaments from a previous time, are on display as the woman speaks of her four-bedroomed home with love and a little despair.
This has been her home; her place for family, and her place of comfort, for many decades, yet now it offers only loneliness.
Watching the delightful, yet slightly unsettling, television series (‘Old People’s Home for 4 year-olds’ ABC Tuesdays 8.30 pm) that gathers older folk together with a bunch of four-year-old children, you cannot but be struck with the intense comparison between what has been and what is now.
The elderly people featured in the program are all living alone – mostly because their life partner has died. Most of them feel they are living a meaningless existence, as one participant stated, ‘really just waiting for the lights to go out’.
Over a course of weekly activities with the guileless endearing children, the older people’s lives change. Some more dramatically than others, but all for the better.
The elderly who had trouble walking, gained a new confidence in their own ability and fears were dispelled as the little children guided them and shared with them all manner of activities.
But the elderly folk still went home to their empty homes.
And here lies the dilemma.
There are, in fact, two dilemmas. One is about loneliness, the other perhaps more political.
This is the crunch:
Politicians and younger folk say, ‘Come on, oldies, sell your three-bedroomed house and make it available to young house buyers, and you, old people, downsize and move to a smaller place that is more appropriate to your present life.’
BUT – and it’s a very big BUT…
The old folk love their homes. Every aspect is so well-known; its layout, its furniture and fittings, its surroundings, its much loved and lived in familiarity. They do not have to wonder where the kettle is and in what cupboard the tea and biscuits reside. (Sorry, that’s a simplified example, but you know what I mean).
What right have others to expect the elderly to uproot their lives. To find a unit or small house in a retirement village – or whatever?
With families often scattered across the globe, they may be lonely, but to have to down-size, get rid of much of their furniture and belongings to fit into a small, neat apartment is a mammoth task beyond many of them. Cruel, even.
To have to leave all that is familiar to them; to leave a community, that, although they may be estranged from it in a way, it looks familiar. It feels familiar and they know what is there for them.
Imagine at 80+ years old, having to find your way around a new neighbourhood, a new set of shops. Perhaps a new GP.
For those oldies who have been driving, to navigate a different set of streets and highways is often too much and the car is discarded.
And, where the hell is the light switch for this new room in this new place? And how do you manage the heating? And why is there no telephone? And where is the nearest pharmacy?
And my sofa doesn’t fit this room - and the bathroom taps are strange and difficult – and how do I operate these ugly curtains – and I can’t lock the back door easily like my old one. And why is there no clothesline?
Then, if it’s a unit in a retirement village, there is the unfathomable ‘Body Corporate’ with its rules and exorbitant fees. No friends or grandchildren to stay without permission, no rugs on the balcony, no airing of clothes in view of other units, no changing the look of the frontage, no smoking in view of other residents. And, for that privilege, please pay $500 per month.
Any new ‘friends’ have to be almost forced upon them, as opposed to developed over time, and the new life can turn out to be even more lonely that the familiar one left behind.
There may be a shortage of houses for families to buy, but it is a serious dilemma that cannot be solved simply by moving old and perhaps lonely folk out of their homes to make room for the next generations.
Does anyone have a solution? It seems like a bunch of four-year-olds can help more than anyone – at least with the loneliness aspect.
Turning on Friday morning’s early news bulletin we are informed that a sixteen-year-old boy has been fatally stabbed in Brisbane. He is found, close to death, alone on a footpath, bleeding profusely and dies in hospital shortly afterwards.
Police are not discounting ‘gang’ activity.
That evening, as we sit engrossed in an episode of ‘Vera’ on ABC television, the broadcast is interrupted by an announcement that Prince Philip has died at the age of 99.
The announcers go on and on about the Prince’s demise and his history of how he met the future Queen of England and so on and so on. The Governor General appears and begins a long and dreary talk on the prince’s life and involvement in activities or whatever - and we give up on ever finding out how Vera discovers the villain in the story we were watching. We turn off the television.
And I can’t help but think how some lives – and deaths – are more important than others. In fact, how some lives are more valuable, or valued than others.
Reported deaths of at least 500 brave protestors in Myanmar are given two minutes of reportage on our news.
Grieving relatives of the hundred and more people killed by the horrendous floods and landslides in East Timor and Indonesia are shown on Australia’s news bulletins, before being brushed aside to concentrate on domestic issues.
The murdered Brisbane boy is named as Yannis and photos of him appear in newspapers and online. He is a big and mature looking sixteen-year-old, but he is still only a boy.
Sure, he and his mates were possibly ‘up to no good’ – we don’t know, but he was still a schoolboy, with friends – most of whom would not have wished him to be murdered.
What was his story?
Prince Philip had led a life of privilege and luxury. He had lived to be 2 months short of 100 years.
He travelled extensively and had a busy social life, enjoying wealth and extreme advantage.
What chance had Yannis to achieved fame and fortune in his short life of sixteen years? You can bet that his was not a life of privileges and luxury.
And now, I admit that I would rather hear about the life story of Yannis more than that of the prince. I would like to know and understand what leads a sixteen-year-old boy to be out and about at night-time with a group of friends – one of whom was in a possession of a large knife and prepared to use it – and did.
You know what I think is the missing element from all the argy-bargy that’s been going on in politics, and life in general lately?
It’s kindness; simple kindness.
There’s trouble with Covid vaccinations.
Trouble with gender equality issues.
BIG trouble with Climate Change.
And I’m wondering about a novel approach to problems - using kindness.
I listened to the PM the other day, reciting one of his ‘word salads’ that he uses to try and placate his critics and, as he tried to say that he was on everyone’s side, the reason he sounded insincere is that there were no accompanying words of kindness offered. The word ‘respect’ was flung around, with no attached note as to (or from) whom this ‘respect’ would be delivered. There was a lot of ‘look at me’ and much of how he ‘understands’. We know he speaks kindly of his family, but he never seems to speak kindly of – or to - his fellow Australians.
The vaccination debacle is one of the best illustrations of the undesirability of putting all one’s eggs in one basket. (Definitely no kind thoughts there!)
Then from many commentators, the current explosion of women’s rights and the (necessary) push for gender equality is often met with either derogatory comments about ‘militant feminists’ or the defensive, ‘not me – not ALL men’ claim.
Few people stop to think in a kindly way of their fellow human beings, male or female.
Albert Schweitzer once said,
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate”.
Notice the words, misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility. (A lot of that around, lately).
That those things may ‘evaporate’, once kindness is instigated, may well be correct. But we don’t seem to have the time to devote to being kind.
Does it take too much effort?
Too much thought?
Is it possible that lack of kindness could be halting real progress in the Climate Change dilemma?
If the world’s population, especially the world’s LEADERS, applied a truly kind attitude to OTHER PEOPLE – their fellow man - then perhaps it would be an easier task to make Climate Change an imperative - and begin a huge desire to get working together on solutions to save us from inevitable destruction.
Instead of pandering to the god of money and the money-men, whose only thought is of themselves, how about thinking of everyone as needing consideration.
General KINDNESS towards our fellow man would achieve this.
Nothing less is my guess. Futile, I suspect.
“Be kind whenever possible.
It is always possible.” (Dalai Lama)
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.