I am blessed with two sisters: one is two years older than I, and one is two years younger. With doses intuitively mindful of efficacy and vital signs, these two women provide me shelter from, and exposure to the realities of life in equal measure.
My younger sister, Aynsley, is a nurse at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. Her work days are filled gathering shreds of human dignity among physical wreckage, and weaving them together over gaping fears of obsolescence. Her accomplishments in the medical field of life improvement are given; the most humane nurse knows that glimpses of the abyss mutate more stealthily and predictably than any infectious disease ever could.
My older sister, Evan, is a documentarian in the midst of producing a film entitled Present Perfect. True to sisterly form, the film studies our society’s questionable approach to aging and death through a most enveloping lens. From the Present Perfect website:
Set in a preschool housed in a retirement home, Present Perfect is a story at once simple and intricate, about the poetry that lies in the day-to-day interactions between the very young and the very old- those at the beginning of life and those nearing the end- and ultimately, what those relationships can reveal to us all about the way we live now.
While traveling through Turkey over the summer, a tour guide pointed out the absence of homeless people. Despite archaic aspects of Turkish society (a woman’s lack of choice in her own marriage, a caravan heralding the circumcision of a seven year old boy) I was stunned by this apparent triumph of civilization.
[Homelessness is primarily urban and inherently difficult to quantify, however recent data suggests that the US has 10 times the number of homeless people per capita as Turkey. NYC has a population of roughly 8 million, with nearly 54k recently documented as homeless, while Istanbul has a population of 14 million with 10k homeless.]
Besides imploding my stereotype, Turkey’s minimal homelessness demonstrates the malleability of cultural landscapes. They seem static because we are standing on them, but in reality cultural landscapes are tectonically shifting positions made of well worn collective wisdom. I imagine a societal norm is born much like a regional cuisine, out of necessity mixed with ingenuity, bubbling up in all it’s messy ethnocentric and communal glory.
If Turkey can show us how to make hummus, can she also show us how to house our people? What would happen to our cultural landscape if everyone had a home?
And what would happen if we were more accepting of aging and death? In Evan’s words:
The inspiration for this film stemmed from a longstanding desire to explore the topic of aging in America. Stepping into most any nursing home, it’s hard to ignore the sense of isolation one feels on behalf of the residents living there, and even harder to reconcile that with the fact that old age will inevitably come for us all. Does it have to be this way?
If my experience in Turkey has taught me anything, then I would have to say… no.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Who knows where mindful, mature acceptance of aging will take us? I often wonder if our stubborn refusal to look death squarely in the eye, to absorb it for the intrinsic truth of life that it is, has something to do with our societal addiction to violence and gun culture on one side, and our inability to allow natural death (AND) on the other. A child who desperately needs sleep would sooner thrash about to distraction before laying himself down for a nap.
Present Perfect is a gift, a new and improved recipe, gently stirring us into redeemed humanity.
If you are feeling the groundswell of this shift in collective wisdom, would you consider joining me in supporting this film, either with a donation or by spreading the word?
That we may be free to dance across every stage, here’s to the meaning of life.