I couldn't help thinking, when I was in the care home, that if life is a journey, then this might possibly be the final destination. Things like cancer, stokes, heart attacks might be the stations along the way where we might have to get off but if we live long enough, is this it? Is this where we we all end up, if we can no longer look after ourselves?
Who was it that said life is what happens when we are busy making other plans? We seem to live our lives like ants, busy being busy, not seeing, or maybe trying not to see the bigger picture. Stepping into the care home was like stepping into a secret, hidden world. Why was that? Is it that we don't want to acknowledge our mortality, don't want to deal with issues that make us uncomfortable so we wrap it up and hide it away? Is that why public places, public buildings, public transport only accommodate healthy, able bodies? Keep the elderly and disabled in their places? We stare at people who are disfigured, frown at mothers who dare take their babies and prams on the bus, curse the old person in the wheelchair keeping us waiting at the zebra crossing. How dare they invade 'our' space!
As I mentioned before, I have an issue with artists' anatomy books featuring only slim, athletic types. I have an issue too with male artists who claim to paint the beauty of the human form and somehow only see that in young, white, slim females. (To fend off the usual accusations I'm white, not overweight, and have held that opinion since my teens. And a thought occurred to me that cosmetic surgeons probably have more knowledge about how bodies look as they age than most artists.) The media too, focuses on such a tiny proportion of the human population, that it's no wonder we have no idea how diverse we are really are, and how warped this view is. We are supposed to come in all shapes and sizes, all colours and attitudes. The magazines cast off their ageing models, the newsrooms let the middle aged female presenters go, and Hollywood actresses repeatedly go under the knife to stay in employment (playing, for example, the impossibly glamorous mother of a man who looks only ten years younger!) so we never get to see females as they really are, the natural progression. We see more years as taking away value instead of adding it. (And to say women age and men only get more 'distinguished' is just another delusion.)
My grandmother was a very gentle, softly spoken woman who, I remember, always seemed to be smartly dressed in a woollen suit and blouse - even during one of our last visits when she was sitting next to a blazing fire in July. During one of those visits, a 'friend' of hers, (for want of a better word, but everyone knew everyone in Ireland in those days) a jolly, loud overbearing woman, came in and started talking down to her. Clearly she thought she was deaf and slow. I must have been about 11 or 12, but it taught me a lesson in never judging a book by it's cover. My grandmother gently smiled, answered respectfully and showed no sign of irritation, but when she left she said something very witty (I wish I could remember it!) and made us all laugh. So she was elderly, so she didn't compete to be as loud or as 'clever', but it was the big bumbling woman who looked small.
An assessor came into the room and asked my mother, "Do you like it here?" My mother smiled and said "oh, yes, I love it". My brother and I looked at each other. Well, how would anyone answer that question, when you are lying in bed in a care home? Irony isn't listed in the handbook for the elderly. They are supposed to be sweet, funny, childish, deaf, and completely off the planet. My mother is being well looked after, thankfully, but I did wonder if any of those nurses saw themselves lying in those beds or slumped in those chairs, and could imagine how they would feel about someone half their age were talking to them as if they were 5 years old and deaf?
I remember reading a question about animals on farms and why, when one of their group is slaughtered in front of them, don't they realise their own reality and try and escape? It seems to me, that we humans are no different. We know we could wake up one day, have an accident and spend the rest of our lives in a wheelchair. We see how others suffer, we see how we can end up, but for some unexplainable reason we really believe unfortunate things only happen to other people. Therefore, we don't have to worry about it or make allowances for it, and we really rather not have to see these people and so make sure they are kept safely out of sight.
A few weeks ago, I was in Globus, an up-market department store here in Geneva, and I noticed a woman customer look me up and down, focus on my shoes and give me an extremely disdainful look. It was a pair of sandals I've had for many years and had seen better days but I'm fond of them and loathe to get rid of them. But really, is my worth as a human being tied to what I wear? We, in the west, are offended by all sorts of ridiculous things like having your roots showing, or your cuffs being the wrong length. It's beyond obscene. For millions of people every day is a fight for survival and on the same planet there are people with more money than they or their grandchildren will be able to squander, getting offended by the sight of someone with last seasons Prada handbag.
As more women are starting to look like Barbie dolls and even men are succumbing to the pressure to go under the knife in order to conform to an impossible ideal, I wonder when it's all going to end? Is a phase that will eventually go full circle and we'll all look back in horror? What were were all thinking, all trying to look like those plastic celebrities?! Probably not. But ageing is normal and inevitable, why do we fear it so much? We are all ageing at the same rate, but if we only value youth and beauty, then, presumably, we will all lose our value eventually.