Tuesday, January 10, 2017

It's a Small World, After All...well, it is and it ain't.

This year the Cowden family traveled to Arkansas the week after Christmas.  Lisa and I both have family there, and it was good to see them.  We even got to catch a Razorback game while we were there, though in all honesty I kindof wish we hadn't...it wasn't pretty.  While we were there we did a lot of things you'd expect.  We enjoyed meals together.  We exchanged gifts.  We played with new toys.  We decorated cookies.  We tore some beams down in a house and then rebuilt at least one of them.  You know, normal stuff.

One thing I did while we were in God's Country was to go to the Senior Living place where my father in law is the maintenance manager, Elmcroft.  It seem's Steve's heat (not his real name) was out and needed repair.  It wasn't a difficult repair, and in relatively short order we had that thing humming (and, more importantly, producing heat).  Another satisfied customer.  Our youth choir has actually sung in an Elmcroft facility before.  It was just last June.

I'm  not sure why this occurred to me other than I'm an odd bird, but I noticed something in Steve's room.  All the things that were most important to him were there.  A shadowbox frame with items he kept celebrating his retirement.  His bed.  his chest of drawers.  His Razorback blanket.  Then, as I was walking the halls, I saw where the staff had hung all kinds of pictures of the residents. Nearly everything that happens to them happens right there.  To be clear, many of them are realizing long-standing dreams of theirs (frequently with the assistance of the staff).  There was a beauty salon.  A cafeteria.  Entertainment (which might one day include our very own youth choir).  All right there.  Steve's entire world was basically within those walls.

Also while home I went to visit two of my grandmothers, both in assisted living facilities as well.  My mom's mom suffers from Parkinson's.  Honestly it was difficult to see her.  She's always been the healthy, spry one.  Every time I see her she is less herself.  She almost can't communicate now.  While we were sitting together in the front lobby, she looked out the window and pointed out the van that was loading a resident.  I couldn't quite make out what she was saying.  I think she was just making an observation.

My grandmother's car is at my mom's house now.  Little exists for her outside of her facility other than her doctors.  That's also true for my stepfather's mom, who I also visited.  She is more communicative and engaged, but like Grandma Pat, Grandma Alvern's world is mostly limited to her facility.  The things that define their lives--and Steve's--are the things that happen in their respective places.  World, National, State, and even much local news has little consequence for them, and they are largely unaware of it.  This is not universally true, of course.  Generally the older and more frail or infirm, the smaller their world becomes.

I also got to meet my newest niece, Hadley, while we were there.  She's a cutie.  You know what I realized?  Her world started out superdy-duper small.  And it didn't grow as much as you'd think when she was born.  Even now, it consists of her parents, her family, her room.  It's growing, though.  Hadley's world is growing rapidly!  It will keep growing, too.  Each of her experiences will push its boundaries a bit farther.  That's actually the scariest part of being a parent, I think.  Eventually your child's world includes spaces you aren't, spaces you can't go, spaces that are unfamiliar even to you.  That's when some parents struggle to let go...but that is another post.

It's part of the life cycle, I guess.  Your world begins so small.  It expands rapidly as you grow.  Your bed.  Your room.  Your home.  Beyond.  And then, just as rapidly, it shrinks back (if you live that long).  Beyond.  Your home.  Your room.  Your bed.

But it's not the world that changes, is it?  It's us.  The world is the same size, more or less.  Maybe the universe is expanding, but it's on a scale that renders it meaningless to us.  What changes is our perception of the world.  What changes are the things we find relevant and important.  I'll admit in an odd way I'm a little jealous of Grandma Pat, who has nothing to worry about except the van loading.  Just like I'm a little jealous of Hadley, who has nothing to worry about except SHE'S STARVING GIVE HER SOME FOOD RIGHT NOW BECAUSE SHE'S SCREAMING UNTIL YOU [insert bottle and calm the tempest].  That's not comforting, I don't guess.  I don't envy Grandma Pat or Grandma Alvern or Steve.  I'm confident the Grandma Pat I once knew would be deeply disappointed in her current state.

Still, they have reminded me that our experience of the world is much more volatile than the world itself.  We can seek to change the world, and maybe we can change it.  But what if we instead sought to change ourselves?  I wonder if we might benefit from shrinking our world down just a bit.  Simplifying it.  Absorbing the beauty of the here and now, relieving ourselves of the broad burden of an ever-growing world until it shrinks by necessity or age or disease.  Maybe that's the same thing Richard Carlson was saying when he said, "Don't sweat the small stuff...it's all small stuff."

The world is massive.  And yet there is just one moon and one golden sun.  And a smile means friendship to everyone.  It's a small world, after all.

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