Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Inevitable Exile

[I received this message this morning via an e-mail list I belong to, that generally has nothing to do with aging. I found it especially helpful. I hope you do, too. Many thanks to "Martha" for her insight and generosity.]

I once read an article by a physician who used an interesting metaphor: Having a chronic illness (or being old) is like being exiled to a foreign country that everyone dreads going to. I have found this metaphor very useful.

In this place, the customs are strange. The people are mysterious and sometimes frightening. Everyone speaks a different language. It's physically challenging or even downright uncomfortable. You have to learn a new lifestyle. You start to think about yourself differently. You realize, with dread, that you'll never be the same.

People in your native country have tried to pretend that the Republic of Other doesn't exist, or that they'll never have to go there, so they reinforce the invisible border whenever possible. If you try to visit your old country, you get treated differently. People suddenly don't know how to talk to you. They try to shut you up: They change the subject with their own horror stories.

Or they offer advice, advice, advice all the time. They're scared shitless because you prove that exile could happen to them. They're comforting themselves that they know how to stay out of the Republic. They'll never get sick or old because they live/eat/exercise correctly. They are avoiding having to take in your experience and really feel what it's like.

Even some of the country's administrators are embarrassed about being in the Republic of Other. They want to let you know that while they commute to and work there, they aren't really citizens because THEY are not sick or old. They show off their proficiency in Medicalese by forgetting to speak English. They know all the secrets and they have a lot of experience, but they're bureaucrats who've forgotten what it's like to be new there and fill out the forms. They're self-important pains in the ass and not much help.

I don't know what else to say, except if you walk around in this metaphor for a while, it is sad and softening.

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