Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day

I have been thinking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness a lot recently. I have been thinking about independence, and what that means.

I don't think it necessarily means isolation, though I know it can be used to convey a stance of being apart. The Hebrew notion of holiness is also one of being apart, but certainly not so that one can be isolated... so that one can be devoted to God's service in a particular way.

My dad loves his independence. By which I mean, his identity is as a man responsible for himself. He is a person who does not rely on others to fulfill his basic needs, or even his less tangible ones. He satisfies all these himself. He eats what he wants, when he wants. He watches television according to his interest. (He is very, very interested in Greta Van Sustern. Perhaps I shall try to shift him Rachel's way....) He comes and goes as he pleases. Socializes as matches his mood. Likes getting into a scrap with the butcher at the grocery store. (A butcher by trade, he is forever dissatisfied with the current state of butchering in America.) He thinks of himself as independent.

To try to persuade him to accept help in any given area of his life is very, very hard. A year or two ago he recognized that he could not go about his planting as he had done previously. He liked to fill four planters with artful arrangements of red geraniums and white and striped white-and-blue (really purple) petunias. (You understand the color scheme.) But his loss of upper arm strength meant that he really could not do this himself any longer. He hired a young man to do it for him, gave him a list of the flowers he wanted. The young man came back with yellow and purple flowers, no petunias, no geraniums. Dad was not just upset. He was devastated. He had taken a little leap, had asked for help (paid for it, really) and what he wanted was completely disregarded.

At this point, dad sees everything that is offered as "help" as an encroachment on his status as an independent man. There is some truth to that. If he comes to rely on others for his meals, or to drive him here and there, there is a loss of independence. I cannot deny it.

I had a beloved aunt with whom I discussed women's rights as I became aware of them, as an adolescent in the 1970's. She used to say, "Don't be fooled for a minute Ceci. Women were liberated the day they learned to drive." Dad is aghast that he might need to stop driving. (That is the regulation for receiving Meals on Wheels in the county where he lives.) I get that.

To me independence has something to do with integrity, but it also has to do with relationship. I do not value my separateness and aloneness all that much. (This distinguishes me, among many other characteristics, from my Beloved.) I like to imagine I'd accept the help if my life called for it. But who knows? I can jump in my car and drive 250 miles to respond to an emergency, and get myself whatever I want to eat, and climb stairs without needing to collapse on a bed to rest. I know nothing of what my dad is going through. Nothing.

Last night Beloved and Petra and I attended a Fourth of July/ Graduation party at the home of a mutual friend. Young people were swimming in a pond. A fifty-something physician was running around the yard setting off fireworks with the glee of a twelve-year-old. Three generations interacted seamlessly, and music echoed through the hills with the cracking sound of the fireworks. We were celebrating our independence.


Sarah S-D said...


angela said...

So true of that Mars/Venus dichotomy--we all have a little different take on these grand ideas. I like how you brought it into focus with your dad. So true.

Songbird said...

My parents did not live long enough to reach that phase, although we did worry about my dad after my mom died. Helping a person receive assistance without feeling a total loss of dignity is quite a challenge.

LittleMary said...

yeah. what to do. hard stuff.