My parents love people. Before their old age kept them confined at home, they loved going out to meet people. They never failed to attend any social event….be it wedding, or some puja, or some birthday party, they would not refuse any invitation. Apart from these organized events, they would also pay social visits to friends or relatives, and have them over at their place. Both of them being retired with good pension, they did not have any financial worries, and had all the time in the world for socialization. They are good-natured, kind people loved by everyone. When I used to stay far away and would come home only for few days a year, I could see how active social life they are having. Much more active than what I was managing at that time.
Things are very different now. They are old with lot of health issues. They are not able to go out much. For the past three years or so, my father has not left home except for hospital visits. My mother went out only for essential things like bank visits, or buying medicine or other essential items when they would not deliver at home. And they are completely lonely now. I am their only daughter and I visit them in the weekends. But apart from that no body comes to visit them, hardly anyone even calls them now. Their busy social life, friends, neighbors, relatives….simply evaporated.
I partially understand why. For most people, talking to sick, old people is depressing. When they socialize, they want to relax, they want to be happy, they do not want to feel sad or concerned. May be they have enough worries and obligations in their own lives and do not want to burden themselves with any extra load of concern unless they absolutely have to. My parents who were so well-loved and respected by many, are not pleasant company to these pleasure-seeking people anymore. It is not that my parents complain about their ailments all the time and that is why people stay away from them. My parents still love people and they are genuinely happy when somebody visits. But their sickness, their fraility are right before your eyes and it is hard to ignore. It does not make you happy, it makes you aware of certain grim realities. And most people don’t have stomach for that.
I think it is different from the simple fact that people tend to choose happiness over sadness in an optional social interaction. I mean it is well-known that if you have a positive, cheerful personality, you tend to have a lot of friends. But if you have a negative mindset, or in some way have a negative effect on people, then you are either friendless or may have one or two people you can call friends, if you are lucky. That is not what is happening with my parents and indeed with many others who find themselves abandoned in a difficult phase of life. I see this trend all around now at many levels.
In our society we have few close contacts like immediate family, few close friends. Most people are ready to go to a great length for them. Then there is this wider circle of social contacts which include distant relatives, neighbors, colleagues and other casual acquaintances….these are people you know and interact with but you are not particularly close to them. Some of these interactions are unavoidable and the rest are optional. Discussing a project with your colleague is something you can not avoid but chatting with your neighbor is entirely optional. I find an overwhelming majority of people are not ready to put up with slightest bit of inconvenience in these optional social interactions, not even boredom. It sounds like an extreme statement but this is exactly what I see all around. I don’t know why it is so. I don’t know why so many people seem so full of themselves, why they appear to have so little to give. Are they so completely drained out in fulfilling their various obligations that when they interact with the world outside their core circle, they only can take, take, take to recharge their depleted source? It is difficult to know because I don’t have enough insights into their lives…I am talking about those people whom I don’t know very closely.
This trend is something so common that it is largely accepted in our society. No body would actually blame you if you have never asked your ailing neighbor how they are doing, whether they need any help. Yes, I certainly see that few people who actually do that, who go out of their way to help others even when they don’t have to, are widely praised by many. But people who don’t want to stretch themselves even a slightest amount in absence of any obligation are not viewed as particularly selfish. They are considered normal.
Tell me about your perceptions. I don’t know may be I am being very negative here, I honestly wrote down my observation and thoughts on this issue. I would love to hear that you disagree and your experience is very different and much more positive.
PS. I wrote this blog post few days back last week. A big change happened in my life this week. I lost my father on 12th October. He was 85 and passed peacefully at home. When I reread the post today, I realized many sentences need to be changed into past tense. But I decided to post it as it is. This post will be the last thing I will ever write when I can still mention my father in the present tense.