Seeing our reflection in the elderly: through the eyes of Sai youth
Since early 2010, members of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Center of Farmington, including young adults and Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) students, would visit regularly with the elderly residents of the Avon Health Center in Avon, CT. Our visit to the Health Center was a special and joyous time for the residents, as they got to enjoy various recreational activities, from arts and crafts, to bowling, to playing a game of bingo or bocce. On special occasions, such as Valentine's Day or Christmas, we usually made crafts with the seniors so that they could take these festive holiday decorations back to their rooms. The staff of the nursing home, appreciative of our efforts, usually provided us with the craft materials we needed for the 15-25 residents. Sometimes the staff generously served us cookies and ice tea at the end of our visit with the residents.
The SSE children and young adults spent hours planning the activities and ensuring that a fun time was had by all. In the process, we learnt a few valuable lessons. For instance, we witnessed how much pleasure the residents got when they won any game and received a quarter as their prize. It was just a reminder of how the smallest and simplest things in life could really bring such joy. We were also poignantly reminded of our changing and temporal existence. When we are born, we are so dependent on our parents to guide us and provide for us as children. As we mature and grow older, that dependence slowly fades. However, when our physical bodies and mental faculties start to degenerate in old age, the dependency on someone else re-emerges. We become like children again and find joy and contentment in the smallest things.
An event that really brought this home was when an elderly resident walked into the activity room carrying a baby doll. She sat quietly to one side and rocked the doll back and forth. When we asked her if she would like to take part in our game of bowling, she responded quickly by saying, “No, he is sleeping. He'll wake up soon, but I have to hold him for now until he does.” She continued innocently to stroke the doll's forehead and patted its back as though it was a real child.
We loved interacting with these elderly people and felt a special bond with them. When we saw them smiling and happy at the end of our visit, it gave us such a deep sense of joy and fulfillment. At the same time, we were poignantly reminded of the passage of time and how when we got older, we would become like them. It is like seeing through a mirror into our future. At that time, we would need the help of others and would need love and compassion ourselves. As our beloved Sathya Sai Baba reminds us, the body is subject to decay:
"At the time of birth, the body is a lump of flesh and blood. As it grows, it attains beauty and enters the stage of adolescence and adulthood, when it becomes puffed up with the pride of beauty and vigor, etc. In due course, it is overtaken by the ravages of old age, resulting in loss of vitality and susceptibility to diseases. Thus the body is subject to many a change. . . . You should not therefore consider the body as real and permanent at all."1.
Interacting with the elderly drove this powerful lesson home! All in all, this service opportunity has been an uplifting activity for everyone at our Sai Center.
1 Summer Showers, 1990: http://www.sssbpt.info/summershowers/ss1990/ss1990-02.pdf