Sunday, February 10, 2013

We are never old to ourselves.

Some Eigenheimers ca. 1902

At Blackstrap Lake
“There has never been a person in an old people’s home that hasn’t looked around dubiously at the other inhabitants. They are the old ones, they are the club that no one wants to join. But we are never old to ourselves. That is because at close of day the ship we sail in is the soul, not the body.” (Barry, Sebastian: The Secret Scripture, p. 177)
I frequently mark passages in books I’m reading—if they’re my books—or I write page numbers and paragraph numbers on a slip of paper if I’m reading a borrowed book. The passage above struck me as pungent enough for marking; I have three siblings in nursing homes so I’m frequently among people who belong to “the club that no one wants to join,” to quote Barry.
It’s true, you know. The ship we sail in is a soul ship, not a body ship. Failing to understand how that works is at the core of our misunderstanding of the people who have had no choice but to join the club that no one wants to belong to. As do many of you, I have occasionally contemplated the meaning of my own possible future membership . . . not without considerable trepidation. Will people assume that my mind and soul have deteriorated along with my creaking body, or will there be people that realize that in my soul, I’m no older than I was when I was capable of running a mile, cooking a big dinner or chairing a board meeting?
I don’t mean that we remain up-to-date, hip if you will. Our souls may have been formed in an earlier time and the learning may not always have kept up with progress around us. But that doesn’t mean that club members lose their feeling of being people becoming, of being actors on the stage of life. The soul ship is always new, its sails always bright and trim, its decks always freshly varnished and clean.
Is this true? Is the discarding of the old then a crime against young souls? I’m not sure. I’m not sure because I don’t know what a soul actually is other than our consciousness and there are too many in the club I visit regularly whose consciousness is being usurped by the same processes that are ravaging their bodies. Dementia, we call it, the inability to capture the horses of memory that break out of their stalls and dance like banshees through our thoughts. Now here, now there, untamed and chaotic.
But then, even the very confused may still be “young,” may still be sailing in a soul ship whose course is recognizable only to them.
I just don’t know.
But this I do know. As I walk through the institution which is now home to one fourth of my family, I can feel the longing in the short conversations with residents. “Please don’t put me in the club, talk to the young person inside me. Sit beside me and we will talk like we did in the olden days. I am still here in this tired body.”
Two observations occur: Talk to the young person inside the old body and as you yourself age, don’t let the world shunt you into that club to which no one wants to belong. Nurture your young person, in other words, and never retire. Start something new instead.  
We are never old to ourselves.

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