There is the beginning, the middle, and the end. One way to look at life, anyway. At age 63, I am not exactly in the middle, but not yet at the end (I am certainly not at the beginning). As a son, a father, and a grandfather though, I do have a courtside seat now suddenly for being able to closely observe all three phases of life in play around me all at once.
In the beginning, the folks in the middle, the parents in particular, tend to their babies with the utmost attention to detail. Which, of course, the babies need. If the baby is not sound asleep, a middle person has the baby‘s every movement watched, every need attended to, every second filled with some sort of toy or other amusement. Even when they are sleeping nowadays babies are observed carefully by their guardians on audio and video monitors.
Those of us in the middle of life are generally pretty self-sufficient. Other than emotional needs, we can and do take care of ourselves. If we need something, we are experienced enough, strong enough, and independent enough to make it happen.
But the point of this discussion is the folks at the end of their lives. The problem in today's world, as I see it from this unique vantage point now, is that our old people are in many instances emotionally neglected. They reach the point of being every bit as dependent and needy as are our babies, but even though most are provided essential physical care, no one seemingly has the time to fulfill their mental and emotional needs. Were us folks in the middle to treat babies the way that we ignore old people, we would be socially castigated if not prosecuted for our indifference.
As a middle person, today being a Saturday, I am babysitting. As such, every minute and second of my wife's and my time is and will be spent playing with and tending to, two little darlings – one grandchild after another. I am for example watching my granddaughter nap on a Motorola video monitor even as I dictate this stream of thought.
Yesterday, though (as a middle person is able, mobile, and independent enough to do), my wife and I visited an old friend in an assisted living home, and then visited my mother who is in the hospital this week with pneumonia.
In both the assisted living home, and at the hospital, there were room after room of octogenarians-plus sitting or lying in place, completely quiet (and this was in the middle of the day), with no mental stimulation. Apparently unable to read, uninterested in watching television, with no one to visit them– they just sit there, staring straight ahead, and vegetate.
Waiting to die. Bored with life.
Where is the the discourse, the laughter, the mental stimulation? Where are the middles-of-those-enders' families?
Those of us in the middle have to do better. Even as a beginner, I recognized that such were and would be, over the course of my own life experience, the sins of my community. When I was an adolescent, I learned to play and sing the song “Hello in There” by John Prine on the guitar. It is a beautiful song, with a very appropriate message. Pull it up on your Droid or iPhone, and listen to it. Here is how it ends:
“Don't just pass ‘em by and stare, say hello in there.”
I know I won't be in the middle a whole lot longer. Neither will any of you, whomever may read this message. That's one of the things about life. The sands of time will run for all of us sooner or later.
I do know however that one of my goals whilst I still do enjoy middle status will be to spend a bit more time than I have in the past visiting the old folks. For they need us just as much, if not more, than the babies do.