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I left Iran, the country of my birth, with one half-filled suitcase. When I sold my house 60 years later, I had to get rid of so much stuff to move to an apartment. Now, in assisted living, it’s time to jettison all my belongings.
Consciously and happily, I’m leaving all of my lifelong accumulation of worldly goods behind, because the assisted living center will be my last dwelling. Beyond that I’ll occupy the very last place I’ll ever lay my head. That one, as a great friend with a good sense of humor once said, is six feet long.
Which explains why so many people call assisted living facilities “God’s waiting room.”
So now that I’m in that waiting room, the one most people dread, how do I feel emotionally, and what have I learned? It seems to me that none of us really want to die, no matter in what age or condition we find ourselves.
But Baha’is know, as Baha’u’llah wrote in The Hidden Words, that “I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shed on thee its splendor. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?”
I believe it, and I’m actually, really and truly looking forward to going where that messenger of joy can give me the message firsthand.
On the other hand, I am finding that a part of me – my ego, perhaps – does want to keep my belongings. Yes, the anticipation of not having to take care of them makes me happy. I love not having to do any more household chores which cause physical discomfort, such as washing the dishes, making the bed, cleaning the floor, etc. But I do feel a small sense of grief at not having my things, not doing my things and perhaps not doing them my way and on my schedule.
Notice all the “my’s” in that sentence? In other words, I feel a push and pull between my egoic self and my spiritual self. It is interesting to me, especially after my professional life as a therapist, to observe this struggle in myself as a human being.
I find that the more my spiritual self succeeds, the happier I feel – and most importantly, the more I see the hand of our Creator in my life. I feel that this time of life, on a daily basis, forces me to relinquish my egoic self and bow down to God’s will. Let me be candid here – it is so wonderful to not have the responsibility of making every decision on my own. Why struggle to have my own way, while our Creator can do for us in less than blink of an eye, and the result will be a million times better?
When I made the move to an assisted living facility, I left behind my last illusion of power and independence. I moved to my one-room place in order to physically survive, due to a lack of energy to take care of myself fully. I am almost 87, and have many serious health challenges. But in this place many residents seem to have some sort of dementia, and it is hard to relate to them since I do not understand what they are saying – and neither do they. I admit that I have some sense of resentment as to why I am here and why I am ending up like this, which helps me know that my true struggle and challenge are the promptings of my own ego.
Last night, for the first time, I walked around the facility for my daily or I should say nightly exercise. I saw a whole lot of residents in a large gathering place, half asleep with their mouths wide open. Those who were awake had vacant looks, and did not respond to my hello. That observation frightened me, because even though I am a therapist of more that 40 years, I keep thinking, am I going to end up like those people?
I realize that those people with beautiful souls but little mental capacity left have had, perhaps, very bright and amazing lives, with remarkable histories of accomplishment. They love their families, and they were loved in return by their friends and loved ones – and now they are reduced to being “those” people to me. My awareness of this feeling left me with sense of shame and an awareness of my arrogance, another word for the big ego – the feeling that I must be better than those people, since I can still think, talk, make decisions, and even work. Oh, Baha’u’llah, I asked, please forgive me and eliminate my ego. Please help me to not be so afraid that those people are somehow contagious. I do not want to be like them, so I have to remember that they are all somebody, precious souls created after God’s image and likeness. This is my first big spiritual test here in God’s waiting room, and I feel I am failing it miserably.
Also, as I got used to my new habitation and my new neighbors I became aware that I did have some fear of death – but by this I do not mean that I do not want to die. I welcome death anytime when God decides that I should leave this physical plane. As a Baha’i, I know that death is a messenger of joy. My fear was that when I am in the next world, I may be cut off from my loved ones who are still in this physical world – just as many of the people here in God’s waiting room seem to be cut off from everyone around them.
A few days later, I decided that I needed to leave my room on daily basis, and expend every effort to make contact with the people around me, who are no longer “those” people. They are just people, I’ve learned, created after God’s image and likeness. As I continue my walks, they are beginning to be familiar to me. I am making every effort to connect with them, even though it sometimes seems impossible to do with the majority of my new neighbors, due to the severity or stage of their dementia. I try to touch their arms, gently and lovingly, to look into their eyes, to give them a warm greeting, and feel good about it.
My best and most cherished friend once told me that the more we love the larger our heart will be. Man! She was so right, and her consistent rightness keeps deflating my big ego. Using her advice, I’m adjusting well to my new place and situation. The entire staff here have become my angels, making my stay in this place so much easier with their love. I am so grateful to our Creator for this opportunity to enlarge my heart. At this age and in this deteriorating physical state of my physical being, I have come to believe that He Loves me and has forgiven me, which gradually takes away any fear of death.