There’s an old people’s home near where I used to live many years ago. Its name Netherby, wrongly or rightly, reminded me of the nether regions of hell, and life well beyond our prime. Netherby is what used to come to my mind when I’d think of aged care. I’d drive past it after long days at work. Sometimes drained, and usually sad. For a number of reasons, back in those days I felt not very positive about the future in front of me. But every time I drove past Netherby, I’d feel better. I’d get a glimpse of what truly lay ahead of me, if not for all of us. And that glimpse instead of making me feel gloomier about life always managed to lift my mood into a mode of hope and action. I’d ask myself, “What excuses do I have now for not being who I want to be and do what I want to do? What do I have to wait for? What do I have to feel embarrassed about?”
At night I’d see the blindless windows opening its neon lit innards out to the world, painting a bleak picture in my mind of helplessness, lost pride, beds separated by curtains, people waiting to die gnawing at crumbling memories and regrets. Not all of us of course will relate to this, and this is not all of us will see in old age. Perhaps the images I associate with Netherby go back to a 6-year-old me spending a long summer with my family at a dilapidated hospital waiting for my grandma to die. The smell of death, the curtained beds, bed sores and skin chafed by bed pans. That’s no doubt left its imprint on my beliefs about old age and aged care.
I believe that most people in Netherby and other places like it have lived their lives fully and are enjoying their older years with a sense of joy and achievement. I’m sure Netherby are a fine institution catering to their needs with the utmost care and professionalism. After all, they’re doing what many of us will have excuses in our busy lives for not doing – taking care of our parents and elderly. This may be the case at least in the Western world. I don’t profess knowledge on this topic nor I intend to speculate about what the rest of the planet does.
A thought of Netherby brings me closer to what I think really matters in life. I see that our worries, fears, envy, impatience, inaction and unhappiness are but a thought away from being turned around into love, courage, gratitide, peace, determination and fulfilment. If we will ourselves of course. If a sense of the ephemeral nature of our existence can prod us into feeling better, then what actions can we believe possible and ultimately take to change every day of our life for the better. Do we need an encounter with illness or misfortune to get stronger? Be it a cliche or not, sometimes it does seem that way. We spend a lot of effort avoiding discomfort and stuff we don’t like. And yet we seem to soar when we stop avoiding things and people, and take action towards what we truly want.
I don’t need Netherby to remind me that life is a river we won’t get to swim in twice at the same spot. Depending on our beliefs, some might say at least not in this body. But Netherby is like a parent, unconditionally loving me and reminding me to be just the way I am and make no excuses today for what I love, want, and need. What’s your Netherby?