Sometimes the dreadfulness stemming from social issues and disappointments with the powers of the day seem to overshadow all the other things that are happening in our country. It is easy to find things to complain about and easy to point fingers at those in leadership who we believe are deserving of our reproach because of what we perceive as missteps. Just reading or looking at the news can force one into a state of despondency.

But despite all the gloom, there are those who are quietly enjoying their lives. Some do not possess hefty bank accounts or own fancy cars and big houses, but have resolved to be contented with their lot. I was reminded of those people from a recent experience.

He was sitting on the bench and I joined him. The coconut vendor handed me my coconut. It was sometime after nine in the morning and it was bright and cool – a nice change from the weather we had experienced over the holidays. The chilled coconut water was satisfying without fault and I asked if he was not partaking. He shared that he had enjoyed many days of consuming coconut water. The bench was serving as a resting place while he enjoyed the scenery. He revealed that he was 63 years old and a recipient of NIS pension. He made the point that he was not yet receiving the Old Age Pension.

“Well, you get that at 65,” I voiced.

“Yes, in two years.”

He had worked hard until he retired. I looked at his eyes staring into the distance – seemingly reminiscing on his younger years. He seemed to have no regrets at that point.

He was dressed well and I complimented him. He replied that he had to look “fresh” so the “girls” could notice him. That made me laugh. We often do not associate such vanity with seniors, but there is no age where companionship is not sought and it is often the elderly that crave it even more. I was about to ask about a wife and children when he stated that he lived at the Palms.

“What? Really?”

I was stunned and confronted by the stereotypical ideas I had of the Palms and those who would reside there. How could he be a resident of the Palms? How could he be sitting on a bench having a casual conversation with me when he lived at the well-known geriatric home? I had never encountered anyone who lived at the Palms on the streets. I later learned that a pass allows residents of the home to leave for a while once they can move around on their own. I wanted to know what his experience was like living there for the Palms was always painted as a place that housed the sick and underprivileged; where men and women who neglected their children and were paupers spent their last days; and where ungrateful children deserted their parents. But he did not fit the script in my head–the dreadful picture of old men and women, feeble and grey, sad and hopeless, waiting to die. He reminded me that not only those characters inhabit the Palms.

There are many instances where people have been criticised for placing their elderly in nursing homes; while some do it because they want to discard them, others are unable to give the care required.  Some grow tired after having to give up much of their lives to care for relatives too fragile to take care of themselves. But some seniors, like the gentleman on the bench, choose to go into a geriatric home after weighing their options.

He was contented and had no complaints. With pride, he told me he would clean his space and change his sheets and had no need to collect donations. He was making the best out of the situation and enjoying his life. I proceeded to ask if he ever owned a house of his own, but he said he had lived with his parents. It was an unclear story where no resolution was presented because it seemed to hold some pain behind it–for the first time I sensed some hesitation to elaborate.

I bid him goodbye. For the rest of the day the conversation kept replaying in my head. He had reminded me of the meaning of modesty and contentment. He had found the key to happiness though he owned no house, because he carried home within his heart. There was no shame in telling me his place of abode because there was nothing for him to be embarrassed about living in an institution where the purpose is to care for seniors.

Many of us spend our lives working hard for the things we desire. Some will not rest or feel complete until they own a home. Owning a home provides a sense of security and freedom.

Many of us never envision ourselves ending up in a nursing home. We never think about where time or sickness may lead us and never consider the possibilities of being neglected in our old age.

Time is not slowing down for any of us. There are times when questions will linger in our heads – what kind of man/woman will we become once time permits us to get old? What legacy would we have built? Will we be proud? Will we be remembered? Will our work live on long after we would have passed? Will our children love us to the end? And if there comes a time where we are incapable of taking care of ourselves, what will we call home? And will there be any regrets?

I reiterate my belief that life is meant to be enjoyed and that we must go as far as our potential can take us and be in control of our circumstances. We deserve the best things. We deserve love and we deserve family. But sometimes we may find ourselves alone. For some people, dreams will remain dreams and youth will slip away along with many aspirations. And, sometimes, in Guyana the Palms will become home but it does have to be marked by desolation or a badge of shame. It is an institution that reminds us that our elders are important; that reminds us of our mortality; that reminds us of time; and though it may not be perfect, it is the place that many call home.

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