Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Movie...

... we just couldn't bear to watch, even though I suspect that it's a very good one: The Savages. It had been sitting on our Netflix shelf for a few weeks, neglected for reasons unknown to myself but better known to Ellie, who had read about it, and we took it down last night and slipped it into our DVD player. Twenty minutes later, we pushed the eject button on the remote. Too raw. Too close to the bone. It nettled all our fears about growing old and dependent on others for our care.

I understand that the movie is really about the brother-sister relationship between the younger characters, but the first twenty minutes, at least, were devoted to their aging father and his "girlfriend," who in one memorable early scene sits rigid in front of the manicurist who is pandering to the last vestiges of her vanity. "Very sexy," the manicurist declares, delighting in the color she has just applied to a fingernail and looking up at the wrinkled face in front of her... just as the old woman topples over and dies. Ah, eros! Ah, thanatos! The old man, her boyfriend, the father of the squabbling siblings at the center of the story, is rapidly approaching dementia. Incensed by the insolence of his care-giver in scolding him for not having flushed the toilet, he returns to the scene of the crime and smears the word "PRICK" in his own feces on the bathroom mirror.

We did not reach for the remote, however, until the scene where the old man is strapped by airline officials into a wheelchair to be loaded unceremoniously onto the airplane to return him from Sun City, Arizona, to the nursing home facility his son has chosen for him. (Great exterior shots, by the way, of the Sun City location: curiously symmetrical homes and landscaping, almost surreal, overly bright, and distinctly scary.) Caught short on the plane, the irascible old geezer preremtously yells "Bathroom!" at his accompanying daughter, and again, "Bathroom! Now!" Struggling with tiny, painfully slow steps down the narrow aisle in the crowded plane, both he and she are ignominiously shamed as his pants fall down around his ankles amid the pitiless stares of fellow passengers.

Well, it happens to be my birthday in a couple of days. Not a Big One--no zeros. But the first number in the double digit figure is higher than I'd like it to be. A friend pointed out yesterday at the gym that she still manages to feel young when the second digit is a low one, as mine is. A nice conceit. Still, I have been feeling the weight of years. I notice that my steps are sometimes slower, lacking the energy of youth, and I consciously make the effort to appear more sprightly. I notice with aggravation that those things I liked least about myself--my impatience, say; a tendency to testiness--become more pronounced, and harder to contain. I think much more often about the inevitable end of life. My greatest fear about growing old is the dependency depicted in that movie, the loss of simple dignity, the need for others to take care of me, prop me up when I walk, feed me, clean up after my eliminations...

Which is why the most meaningful part of my metta practice, the first and last moments of my daily meditation, is that line from the chant on the sublime attitudes that comes after "May I be happy" and "May I be free from stress and pain": May I look after myself with ease. It's not often that a film is just too intense for me, but this one was. I never even learned the end of the story--a loss that, as those familiar with The Buddha Diaries know, is a serious one for me. But at least a fine metaphor for the experience of life itself, whose end we are rarely privileged to know.

I'm sure I'm not alone in any of these feelings. I'm hoping you might share your own...


Cardozo said...

I recently had occasion to contemplate my own inevitable demise, when a 25-year-old man from my volunteer organization drowned in the ocean while vacationing in Panama.

There are earthquakes, drunk drivers, all sorts of cancers, and death is always just a hairs-breadth away from shattering the bubble of youth.

The odds are in my favor of outlasting you, Peter, but nothing is for certain...we're all just rolling the dice.

robin andrea said...

I would have turned that movie off as well. I don't like to fill my mind and imagination with depictions of humans being cruel to each other. Not necessary to be reminded, truly.

Aging is an interesting thing. The body does its own slow dance of decline.

I read an article about the 25-year old man who drowned in Panama. Such a freaky thing, to be washed out by a wave while standing in a river. It's the kind of story that makes us grateful for every day we get to have in our aging bodies.

Doctor Noe said...

Like you say, Peter, it's about the siblings, not really about the old man. And the director's sharp ironic observations about the old-age-home business ring true for me.

Don't know where I'd rather be if I couldn't take care of myself. I'd hope my kid would take on the burden but if he chose to put me somewhere I'd have my bodily functions attended to, I'd be grateful.

I wiped his ass when he was a baby but I wouldn't blame him for not literally returning the favor.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a difficult movie. In mid-life now, I vary wildy between worrying some about the aging that is already creeping in and feeling arrogantly youthful. I've been thinking about mortality and the fragility of life this week in th wake of a church shooting near me. I am thankful to have the opportunity to be geting older.

TaraDharma said...

I had an 'instant aging/dependence' experience a few years ago when laid up with a crushed knee and broken tibia. In an instant I was at the mercy of those around me for all my needs, and I mean ALL. For months I needed people to help me with most of my tasks of getting around, eating food and eliminating said food. It was startling.

I learned to take delight in the small things I could do, to break down tasks into very small do-able pieces, and give myself kudos for that.

Loving self-care, done with ease - what a grace. And it's all we can do I think. Other than remain open to friends and family and don't isolate, the way many old folks do. You're going to need those people, big time!

PeterAtLarge said...

Cardozo... wishing you a good long life. You have a lot to give.

Robin... yes, I wake up grateful every day. B'day tomorrow, and I know that Roger's comes up soon. They keep arriving, and for that we must be grateful.

Doctor... you put your finger delicately on the worst of it!

Citizen... was that the one where the guy was killing liberals because they (we!) are ruining the country? I was planning to write about that one, but got side-tracked.

Tara... sound a bit like Ram Dass, whose "Still Here" is an inspiration. I reviewed it in the LA Times when it came out.

Thanks to all for the thoughts.