Recently my grandfather was put in a nursing home. He’s around 90 years old and very feeble at this point. He had been somehow managing to stay in his home, but has now hit a point where he needs people to care for him. Just to give an example, I got a phone call at 3 AM one morning from my grandfather, asking for help. He was heading to the bathroom, had fallen, and couldn’t get up. I made my way over there to find him face first in a pile of dirty clothes, unable to move, having soiled himself in a dirty pamper. Since I’m a weight lifter, I’m the only one available who is strong enough to lift a 150 lb man off the floor.
But that’s not even what I want to talk about. So my grandfather is in the nursing home and I’m going to visit him. He’s served three meals a deal, and for dinners they normally wheel him out to a table in the main dining area where he eats dinner with several other old men. I decided to join my grandpa one evening and we’re all sitting around a big table. Conversations started up and it turns out that one of the old men is a former university professor. He really enjoyed talking with me. Turns out he went to MIT, earned several degrees, has taught as a professor in many different universities, published all these papers, was on top of his field, and even wrote the most highly used textbook in his field. Impressive guy.
Here’s what baffled me. Here’s this decorated man, full of knowledge and expertise but nobody visits him. His wife had entered the nursing home with him but she’s now dead. His kids live far off and don’t visit. Though he’s not far from the campus, no students ever visit him, even though he’s the author of the very textbook they’re using. The old faculty he worked with are now all dead and gone, the newly hired faculty have never contacted him, and nobody has ever felt it even worth letting him know what has been going on in the very department that he founded. My father was at the dinner table as well and called up their department chair. Even though this old man is listed on their emeritus faculty page, the chairman didn’t even know who the old man was! You’d think someone would’ve tracked this impressive guy down, asking him about all these papers he’s published, trying to pick his brain for insights, etc. Nobody ever has. Think about that a moment. I wonder if anyone has even read the hundreds of papers he published, outside of just looking for things to put into their own papers for references. I’m just saying.
Compare this to my grandpa’s room which was full of people at all times of the day. Whenever he would complain of the food, all of us family members were out on the road and taking things to him, even when he probably wasn’t supposed to be eating it. Even I was sneaking him strawberry milkshakes. Why could grandpa call me at 3 AM for help, or request I run all around town to get him food? Good question. Probably because for my entire life he’s loved me unconditionally and I could always see he did everything he could to make me happy. Whether it was when he made me homemade nunchucks and bow staffs in his wood shop because I loved the the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, or when he took me fishing at Meramec springs early in the morning, or when he’d play baseball with me in the backyard. Maybe it’s when he came and admired my tree fort I built in the woods and showed me how to shoot a BB gun. Maybe it’s when he’d buy me packs of baseball cards and watch me place them in my trapper keeper, talking about all the different teams and players. Maybe it’s when he used to print me off business cards which said, “Call me at any time if you’re in trouble, no questions asked, Love, Granny and Papa”, and it left their phone number. It could be when he gave me the hat he was wearing just because I expressed interest in it. It could be all the Sunday dinners where he was constantly patting me on the back, telling me how proud he was of me (when I hadn’t ever accomplished much of anything), and how much he loved me. Could be the holidays where he always bought me gifts and was smiling as I opened them. Even when I’m visiting him in the nursing home, he wants to know all about me. He was asking me if I’d bought that truck I was looking into and wanted to see pictures of it. Asked me how I was liking teaching, whether any of the students gave me trouble, whether it was hard work, etc. I don’t know, seems to be a whole lot of things. Even a hermit like me will go visit a guy like my grandpa if he’s stuck in a nursing home alone, and I rarely get out of the house at all.
Those who love unconditionally will be loved unconditionally, even when they have nothing of value left to give. I don’t think people care much if you went to MIT, or have all kinds of accolades. I certainly don’t. People do seem to genuinely care when you care about them.
I can’t help but make an observation. I wonder if the world has some mysterious mechanism behind it, drawing people of like minds together. Those who love unconditionally in turn draw unconditional love back to themselves. Likewise, those who are using the people and environment around them primarily for personal advancement somehow find themselves surrounded by similar people. These types are so caught up in their own selves, their ambitions, their dreams, etc., there is never any time to care about anyone else, such as visiting an old man in a nursing home. Could this be what happened to the old professor? -shrugs- Who knows.
Later that evening I was spending time with my Dad, and he reflected on this old professor at the nursing home. Dad quoted Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” I agree with him. The old professor spent a lifetime building up some reputation that nobody cares about anymore. He made all kinds of money, but when he could no longer care for his mansion, it had to be sold and the money was taken by his children who don’t even visit him. The rest of his money was taken by the nursing home. His lovely wife is dead and gone. Even his mind, which he spent his entire life cultivating, it’s falling apart due to dementia. Why get caught up in these weird “games” of life? Outside of enjoying the process, there is little point to it.