For as long as I can remember, I have loved being around elderly people and my close relationship with my grandparents led me to study the obscure field of gerontology. Some people have a difficult time relating to this population. It may be challenging to carry on a conversation with someone who is close in age to the sunken Titanic. The feeling of deja-vu that you have when you listen to a story and losing track of the number of times which you have heard it can be quite draining. And eating a sugarless, flourless, tasteless cookie with your diabetic (insert loved one) isn’t going to soon be a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor. Aging isn’t easy. And we’re all doing that every day.
One of my hopes when I made Aliyah was to find a husband and build a family. With G-d’s help, I have checked off one of those goals and, in a little over three months, will hopefully check off the other.
For good or for bad, I would categorize my personality as somewhat nervous. I’m very often anxious about something. I probably hide it well though and I have come to understand that while it’s certainly not healthy to be a nervous wreck, caution is how our species survived. I try to channel this personality quirk but it isn’t easy. It’s a miracle, then, that I am surviving my first pregnancy. These are just a few of some of my worries: Am I feeling my baby too much? Why is it not moving; is she comatose? Why does she sometimes kick me when I eat a cookie? Is she too big? Too small? Will she be good at math? And will she also be an annoying, obnoxious tween like her dear mother was? Will she be embarrassed of my American-accented Hebrew? Will she read the classic children’s book, “Are You My Mother?” – the one where the little baby bird searches for his mom amongst various animals and wonder if her white skin, auburn haired mom can possibly be her progenitor if she herself is dark and Sfardic? If I pay the dentist enough money, can they install a GPS in her tooth so that I know where she is at all times?
I saw my baby twice, at my 16- and 21-week ultrasounds. My sister-in-law tells me she had nightmares from the images of our cute little 16-week old fetus. While she wasn’t super photogenic, obviously as her mom, I thought she was the most beautiful fetus ever. And while I know that I should just be thankful that she’s, so far, so good, I will give her the option of a nose job. Yes, technology is that good. Or her nose is just huge. Hoping it’s the former.
The second time I saw my baby, I was slightly unnerved. I realized that if I held the picture at a certain angle, it was difficult to discern whether she was a fetus or-an old woman. The pinched face, large nose, bulging (although fused-shut) eyes, wrinkled profile against a black and white background seemed to too much resemble a pictorial advertisement for a hospice facility. If there are such things. I hope there aren’t. I know she’ll come out cute. But still, why did it look like there was an elderly lady inside of me?
It was then that I realized that getting old is a lot like being born. Aging is accompanied by numerous changes, both bodily and cognitively. According to the websites, my baby is going through such changes too. Elderly people may experience hearing loss and eyesight issues. My baby’s hearing and eyesight are both immature. Many elderly people, and my baby, are toothless. A lot of elderly people need walking support, have trouble speaking, and suffer from incontinence issues. No matter how many Baby Einstein videos you play to your belly, the little one will not come out an ambulatory, orator, potty-trained prodigy.
I’ve heard people say that old people depress them. Maybe it’s not necessarily the people themselves but rather their conditions. Aging starts with a grey hair. And then another. And then the wrinkles that few anti-aging creams can seem to fight. And then the colonoscopy, followed by the annoying reminders from the AARP that you’ve got a birthday coming up. And being asked by the well intentioned, tactless teenage clerk at your local Kohl’s if you have a senior discount even though you’re not even 50. I’m only 26 so I can’t claim any of this is as absolute truth. But I would imagine it’s not far from it.
We may look at elderly people and see wrinkled, hunched, and schleppy sacks of bones, so close to death that it’s not even funny to joke about it anymore. We gaze with pity upon an old lady whose life has already been lived, whose beauty has long been robbed from her, whose every step must be carefully watched, who may need a lifetime supply of Depends and vow that we will somehow avoid all that. And the fear of the unknown, what lies ahead-well religion can perhaps stave off those anxieties.
It may be hard to love an elderly person simply because it may mean confronting our own mortality and life’s purpose.
But why is it that we are mesmerized by toothless, hairless, speechless, somewhat seeing and hearing impaired babies whose futures are also unknown, but the other end of the spectrum, which is called “old age” and yet so eerily resembles our starting points, makes us queasy? Why is it so much easier to hug a tiny infant who may or may not be capable of loving us back but difficult to sit shoulder-to shoulder with an elderly individual who has, most likely, loved so much?
When I am long gone, and my baby is old, I hope that someone will love her as much as I do, even if her nose is big and she’s super un-photogenic (like her mom). I hope they’ll see that there are more similarities than differences between the transition from womb to life and from life to death. And I hope that they’ll be humbled by that realization. And I hope that that realization will lead to more understanding towards the elderly and old age.