Thoughts by Richard Bleil
As time goes on, and my life changes so dramatically, I’m learning more and more the need to be needed. I’m certain that it’s a matter of health, at least emotional, but probably cognitive and physically as well. I know that my mental health is dependent on feeling needed, significant, and important, but the reality is that I am less and less significant.
Working at the drive-in theater, as small as the role was that I played, it still offered me and opportunity to feel like a part of something bigger than I am, and as small as my job was, it motivated me. I met new friends, and I did my part to keep a tradition alive. In a couple of weeks, the theater will close for the season, and I will have months to feel isolated.
Many of my friends are now parents, or even grandparents. This is such an important role to play. It’s important to be able to raise the next generation of people, and I can’t help but think how marvelous it must be to be needed. My grandparent friends have done their part in raising their children, and now those children are raising their children. And yet, from what I have seen, even as grandparents, the grandchildren keep them central. My friends are so important to their grandchildren, and I wonder what that must feel like.
I spent my life teaching. I thought of my students as my own children and felt betrayed when they turned on me. Now I’m just an old man, waiting to die. I try to pretend like I matter. I’m trying to sell my photographs now, I’ve written a book, and of course I have my blog, but if I disappeared tomorrow, how quickly would I be forgotten.
Visiting my old high school, many years later after graduating from college, it felt very different. It was an odd sensation. All of those students with whom I went to school, all of the people that everybody knew, all of the places filled with familiar faces had forgotten me, and them, completely. Life goes on. The reality, we all will pass eventually, and when we do, life continues. People, and time, will forget we ever existed.
The sad thing is that some of us disappear while we are still alive. I think about the elderly in retirement homes. The fortunate ones have family who visit, and call, and keep them involved, but all too often people are placed there and forgotten. We as a society don’t tend to appreciate the elderly, their accomplishments, their stories, and what we can learn from them. Even those of us with great accomplishments are left behind by those who build on them.
This is where family plays such an important role. My friend has such a marvelous relationship with her siblings, her children, and her grandchildren. She still routinely does things with them, and for them. She sometimes tells me how proud she is of me, but I honestly don’t see why. I look at her family and their love for her, and how they keep her relevant in their lives. She is truly blessed.
I had a thermodynamics professor speak of this when I was an undergraduate. He talked about how many students tend to isolate themselves, not going out, not interacting with others, and not socializing. His philosophy is that if you don’t go out and do things, see shows, visit with friends, then you’re not really a person. You’re just a lonely person existing in a lab.
This week, one of my colleagues at the drive-in asked me what I was planning on doing when the season ends. I’m sure they’ll want me back with they re-open next year, and I see no reason why I couldn’t go back. But the reality kind of struck me when I noticed that I really didn’t have an answer for her, and I should. I should have plans, and goals. I should have friends to visit, and hobbies to keep my interest. But I feel as if I’m just existing, day by day. Some days are better than others. I have buffalo short ribs in my slow cooker for tomorrow, but shouldn’t I have more to look forward to than what’s on the menu? Shouldn’t I have somebody with whom to share them? Shouldn’t I be more relevant than I am?
Spend time with your loved ones. Sit and listen to the elderly in your family. Ask them about their past, and what they can teach you. It doesn’t have to be major. Ask them to cook with you. Go trick-or-treating with them this year. Enjoy the time you spend with them, and remind them of how important they are in your life.