An Associated Press article today details the rising number of young people stuck in old-age homes.
It's no longer unusual to find a nursing home resident who is decades younger than his neighbor: About one in seven people now living in such facilities in the U.S. is under 65. But the growing phenomenon presents a host of challenges for nursing homes, while patients like Martin face staggering isolation.
"It's just a depressing place to live," Martin says. "I'm stuck here. You don't have no privacy at all. People die around you all the time. It starts to really get depressing because all you're seeing is negative, negative, negative."
What a peculiar and two-edged sword hope is. In good times, hope inspires action and a will to move forward. It can overcome or at least mitigate the bad times that visit. But when times are unremittingly bad, hope becomes a hangman's noose because its unrealistic qualities are hammered home again and again: Death is no longer an option that is shaped in the starry-eyed lingo of self-helpers or well-wishers. When someone parrots "hope springs eternal," the response that is based on in-your-face evidence can be "stick it up your ass!"
Hope is based on what is not-yet-true and what is not-yet-true is fabricated. In one sense, it is peculiar and sometimes painful to live a life based on fabrications. And yet hope does seem to spring eternal, probably because some wishes come true even if some don't.
In this world of sometimes-successful and sometimes-unsuccessful fabrications, I think we are lucky to find a practice that encourages us to find satisfaction and peace in what-is, in the circumstances that actually arise in each moment. The old Hindu invocation, "contentment under all circumstances," may be elusive in fact, but still it strikes me as something worth hoping for and then practicing to attain.
Zen practice is pretty good that way, encouraging as it does an attention and responsibility that stand some chance of success when it comes to living a life that does not depend on fabrications.
Or anyway, I hope so.