26 March 2020
On the recent New Moon, Ron & I chatted outside the supermarket while El popped in to get my groceries.
We were exchanging news & thoughts about the covid-19 situation at home and abroad.
An old man who was seated near us became unusually interested in our conversation. At the mere mention of the word, “lockdown,” he sat straight up from his crumpled position and peered at us from behind spectacles too big for his wizened face. Just to be sure, I used the word a couple more times, and he did the same.
So he might have heard bits of our exchange that sounded like this, “Lockdown…blah blah blah…food supplies…blah blah blah…quarantine… infections…lockdown …blah blah blah.”
If I was even remotely right about what Goggled Grandpa was hearing, what a frightening world it must be for him!
His thick glasses coupled with his sunken cheeks and the birdlike way in which he titled his head to “eavesdrop” was both pitiful & endearing.
I decided to stop talking so as not to confuse or scare him.
Now & then at supermarkets elderly folks ask me to read out the small prints on the price tags of cling wrapped groceries for them. $3.25 & $32.5 are too challenging for old eyes.
Sometimes at the pharmacy I see the hesitation and even unease, in the eyes of older folks reading & comparing details on bottles of supplements they are thinking of buying. Most likely they are struggling with pre-existing medical issues and have come to the pharmacy because someone has told them such-and-such superfoods can help them or even cure them of their ailments.
I used to ask where are their children when I see old folks managing on their own. But getting on in years myself, I also realise this kind of isolation may not be for lack of physical companionship or care, but is brought on by the gradual & inevitable deterioration of one’s own 5 senses.
When our eye sight fails we don’t trust what we see. So what if there’s someone who loves me standing right next to me?
When our hearing wanes, we’re unable to participate fully in conversations or worst still, we listen selectively and mix up our own mangled narratives with that of others. So what if I’m guaranteed a place at gatherings?
When our gustatory and olfactory faculties weaken, we may need more than permissible doses of flavorings to entice us to eat. So what if a 10 course feast is placed before me?
Perhaps these are what make aging so frightening, because no amount of external support can compensate for the loss which is internal.
This morning I recalled my grandpa silently going about tidying the temple altars, folding up paper offerings with his arthritic fingers and making sure the temple cats had been fed before he locked up for the night.
I realised in the end no matter how popular or powerful we are, it’s just us and our personal memories, thoughts and practices that will keep us company and grant us some peace in the midst of all that fluidity.
Maybe the current situation of physical isolation through quarantine and stay home notices can help us to accept our own company first, and make peace with who we really are. Only then we can purify our fears of Covid-19 lockdown and rehearse for the ultimate lockdown that awaits every single living being when it happens.