Sunday, 9 October 2016

OLD AGE and LONELINESS - II

I shall now get into the realm of ‘tackling loneliness.’

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Among other meanings, loneliness simply means the state of being alone. Some synonyms of this word are isolation, solitariness, forlornness, desolation, aloneness, lonesomeness, friendlessness, and reclusiveness.

Each is more depressing than the previous, isn’t it?

How, why, and when does one become lonely?

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Loneliness in old age is a punishment, a curse, be it a man or woman. It depresses and leads to other problems. Let me take you through the labyrinthine issue as I see and experience it.

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Almost five decades ago, I came across the following … ah … humorous (= cynical?) quote (author unknown) in Reader’s Digest. It goes thus, to the best of my memory.

“Keep your company to yourself. If you cannot tolerate it, why inflict it on others?”

I feel it is a cynical view of the issue. A question springs to my mind immediately.

Is it for me to judge my company, its effect, its quality, and its worth?

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‘Company’ is the state when two or more people are together. When I am on my own, there is no ‘company’.

I may harbour a low opinion of myself, an inferiority complex, sort of. Nevertheless, contrary to my opinion, others may find my company acceptable, pleasurable, knowledgeable, etc. We are often plagued by our own daemons, which others may not concur with.

However, I draw an entirely different meaning from the quote, a meaning that goes a long way in supporting my arguments on the issue. The key words are ‘tolerate’ and ‘inflict’. These words must inspire us to make our company tolerable where others may not feel it inflicted upon them.

The quality of one’s company can be judged by its effect on others in the company (oneself, in case one is alone). The effect could be the pleasure derived, the entertainment distributed, the knowledge or information disseminated. However, if one were all by oneself, all these would be incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial (as Perry mason would have put it); then enters the all-important factor of time.

How does one spend time when one is alone?

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They say that, in the West, lonely people go to psychiatrists when they feel the urge to talk to someone!

Does it mean that one needs company only when one wants to talk to someone?

No, that is the sad part of it. Simply put, one needs company to interact with, to belong to, and to seek comfort from.

All these vanish when one retires or when one loses one’s spouse or some other circumstances. One is by oneself, often not knowing what to do with all the time in the world. This is where the quality of ‘company’ springs up. When one is destined with few friends then one is destined to spend time by oneself, period.

How does one spend ‘all the time in the world’?

Obviously, one cannot stare at a wall throughout the waking hours. Daily chores and obligatory visits to grocers and doctors, and entertainment (whatever entertains one) would take a small portion of one’s waking hours. What about the rest?

The importance of multifarious activities, avocations, and hobbies shows itself at this point. These could include reading, writing, drawing, music, gardening, meditation and yoga, movies and theatre, photography, cooking, and a horde of others.

Another fulfilling activity is involvement in social service. This may be at homes for physically and mentally challenged children, orphanages, old-age homes, or voluntary services in hospitals.

Such activities help one keep busy and spend one’s time creatively and constructively. Incidental to this is the satisfaction of giving something back to the society that has given one so much.

If one does not involve oneself in some such activity or activities one has a huge problem on one’s hand. One does not acquire these ‘skills’ suddenly after retirement. One needs to acquire them. One needs to train oneself. One needs to prepare oneself before hand for one’s future, for one does not know what is in store in the future.

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During my over-six-decade long sojourn on this beautiful planet, I have observed numerous educated, talented, and creative people suffer silently and wither away unable to tackle their sad solitude.

I conclude that it has nothing to do with the qualities I have listed; it is despite them. A taxi driver, a maidservant, or a vegetable vendor may cope with it better than a ‘qualified’ person may.

Another revelation for me is that women cope with it better than men do.

What is special about them?

It is their resilience. For them, work is life and life is work. There is no ‘retirement’ per se for them, unless they are incapacitated. They are physically busy and hence, have less or no time for brooding.

However, to assume that they are not susceptible to solitude would be inhumanly erroneous. In a scenario where they lose their spouses or soul mates for some reason, they, too, are affected, but their work, their responsibilities, and physical activity gives them less time to brood.

Nevertheless, even in their case, it will be a different scenario altogether when it comes to emotional loneliness.

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Thus far, I travelled through the problem of physical and cerebral loneliness. One can deal with these, with some preparation. There is another kind of loneliness, which is impossible to resolve by anyone.

It is the emotional loneliness.

This is caused and sustained by the loss of one’s beloved spouse, soul mate, or partner. The physical and cerebral void can be filled by all the above-mentioned activities.

How does one fill the emotional void?

The affected person must accept it as the inevitable cosmic truth and move on with life.

More often than not, such a catastrophe shatters and devastates a person. One does not know what to do or where to look for solace to the ravaged soul. All the knowledge and all the avocations will not bring even a semblance of solace.

Here, there is no substitute for company of the near and dear, helping the affected person through the crushing crisis in the short run, and ease the person into a livable routine in the long partner-bereft run. Let us agree that LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME for the shattered person. However, the person’s life, what is left of it, can be made livable by the near and dear.

This is where the company of one’s family members becomes important and essential. Under such calamity, one will understandably seek the company and compassion of one’s family. With compassionate and kind words and deeds, they can guide the person through the devastation.

Everyone is aware that the dead cannot be brought back and that fond memories of a happy past are the only treasure left. The family, or what is left, must rejoice in the company of one another drawing from this treasure.

The company must caress with a soothing hand and bring a modicum of comfort to the devastated elderly soul.

Is this the end of the topic? Certainly not.

This is a timeless topic. The issue will continue among others whose shattered souls need solace.

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In conclusion, I shall add my favourite quote on ‘work’.


WORK IS MAN’S GREAT FUNCTION

He is nothing, he can do nothing, he can achieve nothing, fulfill nothing, without working. If you are poor – work. If you are rich – continue working. If you are burdened with seemingly unfair responsibilities – work. If you are happy – keep working. Idleness gives room for doubt and fears. If disappointments come – work. If your health is threatened – work. When faith falters – work. When dreams are shattered and hope seems dead – work. Work as if your life were in peril. It really is. No matter what ails you – work. Work faithfully. Work with faith. Work is the greatest remedy available for mental and physical afflictions.

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An ocean it may be, but it all starts with a droplet, right?

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