a preponderance of punctuation marks (reedrover) wrote,
a preponderance of punctuation marks
reedrover

Being a Positive and Productive Member of Society

As I was growing up, I was on the receiving end of a lot of lectures on the meaning of adulthood, and goals for adulthood, and who and what I was going to be when I reached that magical transformation point of self-reliance and independence.

The basic standard lecture was that I should aim to be a "positive, productive member of society." The expanded lecture included such gems as "Knowing what you don't want to be when you grow up is just as important as knowing what you do." with the implication that we should go out and try things, and that quitting because we didn't like something was an ok reason. There was always my favorite line: "If you want to be a janitor, then be a good janitor." There was no minimum standard of type of occupation, simply a minimum standard for execution of that occupation's tasks. There was no excuse for being idle. There was no room for non-participation.

The basic statement from my parents was that there was (and is!) a great big world out there, and we were going to go out and help it to turn. As illogical as it was, there was a standing pledge from the parents that, if we got jobs and needed to live at home, Mom and Dad would help us out. However, the moment we graduated, if we didn't get into school, get a job, or become involved in some other gainful occupation, rent was $1000 per month. In short, idleness was inexcusable but all else was supportable with negotiation.

So now, my parents are working on their retirements. I have already had this discussion with both of them individually, but it looks like I'm going to have to go back and have it with Dad again. You cannot just retire from something. You have to retire to something. Sure, Dad retired to do chemo. Ok, fine. That's short-term, though. Once he is better and back on his feet, I expect him to do something with those feet and that attached brain. He needs to get a job teaching basic geology to freshmen, or editing scientific journals, or repairing model trains. He needs to volunteer at the library. He needs to start rolling his stones before they grow moss and sink into the sand. (Mom is still teaching a couple of nights a week and participating in conferences. She also joined a piano club and the church handbell choir. I think she is doing ok for both mental and physical interactions.)

Grandpa has complained multiple times - especially to Dad - that he's tired of living. He's done now, thanks. He's sick and tired and BORED. If it weren't for the fact that he is utterly and completely devoted to Grandma, he'd probably have stepped in front of a bus already. On one hand, I'm not all that sympathetic to his particular situation. He has nothing besides reading and TV to occupy his time because he won't leave Grandma's side, even though she does not need him to watch her sleep. On the other hand, he has very little mobility, and while his retirement home has every comfort you could want, it has no method for external contribution.

I think that one of the major failings of our modern society is that we do not have a place where our elderly can still contribute when they have passed into the final stages of physical frailty. Grandpa is still quite sharp, mentally. Unfortunately, he has so many physical barriers to social participation that it costs too much energy to get past those barriers in the first place. He can't be a contributing member of society any more, except socially, and even then only rarely and with high costs to the people around him, because of where and how he is living. He is a user of all services, and a contributor of none. This is not by choice. He still has plenty to share, but no practical way to share it.

As I've visited my parents and grandparents, the thoughts about how to deal with the challenges of aging and productive social participation are becoming louder. I can see that a part of the problem is being unwilling to venture out, to take on challenges, or to take risks. But I can also see that a part of the problem is remembering that anything is worth doing, so long as we do it well. Go back to the janitor example. Ok, so maybe Dad can't be a Little League coach. He could still be a reading tutor. It's not as exciting or glamorous, but it is certainly positive and productive.

So yes, the lessons were learned. I have only a vague idea of what I'm going to be when I grow up. But I have a good idea of what I'm going to do when I get there.


... in darkness, understanding
Tags: emotions, family, human_condition, learning
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