A while ago I came across a short story competition which asked people to write about ageing. Here is my entry, which didn't win...
I was becoming fed up of struggling. I realised on that bed that I had been struggling my whole life. When I was born I was struggling to stay in, to stay in the comfort of that womb that protected me from the world, and once I was forced to leave, there were responsibilities I had to take on. When I was a child I would struggle to get things, shout and scream till I had them. This continued throughout my life, except the shouting and the screaming became internal, constantly wanting something else other than what I already had, always looking for something to give me relief from the actual looking that was causing me so much discomfort. And it had continued even to now, when I was on the hospital bed, looking at all the other poor suckers lying there, helplessly, usually being kept artificially alive by machines and pumps and injections. We weren’t allowed to die, it was against the rules.
But why? Why were we all so afraid of death, anti-death but pro-birth, as if one was good but the other was some terrible mistake? We should have all been dead a long time ago, and in a way we were. We had not the life in us that a living being should. We were only half there, enough to feel pain, but dead enough to do nothing about it.
I always remember my family walking in to see me, my children, their kids, and the grandchildren would always have that joyous and bright look on their faces dampened whenever they saw me, lying there with a tube up my nose and only my eyes to blink at them. Why wouldn’t they let me die?
I couldn’t really remember how I had got there, but I felt myself coming and going all the time. For years I felt I was losing who I was, and I would go for stretches feeling as if I was lost in space somewhere, without a home or an abode, not fixed to one position in the world. Sometimes I was gone.
But there was a moment when my family walked in, where I could remember youth so very well, the sheer enthusiasm for life, the sheer absence of worry, no concepts of the future, no ideas of lack or stress or struggle.
Where do we get so messed up, I thought as I watched my grandchildren sitting there, swinging their legs off the chairs together. Where do we go from being so free and open, to so closed and serious? I was serious, my children, now adults, were serious, but my grandchildren were not so deeply touched by all of it. They were touched, but it was not sticking inside them like it was for their parents. There was a light which just ate up the darkness inside the young ones.
“Dad, how are you?” My daughter rubbed my arm and leaned in to look at me.
She knew I couldn’t speak. But they knew I could think. They knew I was there sometimes, looking back at them, but how could I possibly communicate that I wanted to die now?
“Enough of this!" I wanted to scream, whenever the doctors or nurses would come to change my tubes or feed me through my nose. “Enough! It is just a body, I am not this! Release me! Let me go!”
And so my struggle continued for a while. I wanted to fix it, still I wanted to fix my life so things were just how they should be, so that everyone acted exactly how I wanted them to.
But then, the strangest thing was when I realised that I had been chasing an impossible thing my whole life. I had been a fool to not see it sooner. How dare I? How can they? How can they conform to my mind, how can the world match my ideals? It suddenly felt so strange to me, as if I had been having unfair expectations on everything around me, and for the first time in my waking state, I finally let go. I let the pain be there. I said to pain, “Come and join me, do whatever you wish, surely you must a have a reason for being? Yes? No? Well come, stay if you wish, stay if you wish!"
And then that pain in my head and in my arms and in my throat shrank, as if it had been released, like it was breathing a sigh of relief, and it shrank and shrank, and it started to move further away from me.
“Keep this body alive then,” I said to my children and those doctors, those doctors who I was cursing for being so foolish and unnatural, were now like colorful waves moving in and out of the room. “Keep this thing alive, if that’s what you want, but I will not involve myself any longer. I am finished, I am finished struggling with all of this."
And then, when I finally let go of all the willing and wanting and fighting and blaming and naming and shaming and all the rest, I dissolved, and I was free, and I was light.