Paying it Forward or Future Proofing?
Recently I had the honour of spending time with a woman of 90 who had no family living close by and who was deteriorating because of dementia. She was a friend of my mother's and, for the last year or so, I have been visiting her every couple of days in the nursing home where she was being so very well looked after. My business partner suggested that I was wasting my time (and that of the business) by going to see her, as she didn't know me well, wasn't anything to me, and had nothing to leave me (it seemed that this might have explained to him why I was spending time with her).
When she died on Sunday night (she had deteriorated rapidly in the last two weeks), I felt an acute loss and it made me realise that the visits I had made to her were just as beneficial to me. So what had motivated me to get to know her better in the last year of her life and what, essentially, was I grieving for?
Certainly, there was the loss of a friend. She and I had spend many hours discussing her family, her childhood, the town of her birth, her life. I enjoyed hearing her stories and felt immense joy at helping her to remember things when the dementia began to rob her of the stories she had only recently shared with me. The look of pleasure on her face at remembering the name of the shop next door to her father's inronmongers - or recognising a picture of her grandchildren - is one which will stay with me forever.
Then there is the feeling of honouring my own mother by doing what my mother was no longer here to do. If my mother had been alive, she would have been visiting Kate and so perhaps I felt closer to my own mother by, in some small way, walking in her shoes. Kate always spoke about my mother in very glowing terms and, as the illness robbed her of innovative thought, she reverted to some well known phrases, almost mantras, which she used when nothing else could be found. My mother "was a lovely person" she would say.
Lastly, perhaps there is a sense of "future-proofing" my own life, or investing in my future by banking some good deeds at this time and in this life. Karma is something more and more people appear to believe in as an understanding of the princples of Buddhism seem to offer increasing solace to the many ills of modern life. Karma (an action or a deed) has come to mean that every action as an effect in the future - the law of cause and effect can explain inequalities created inthis life by deeds from a previous incarnation.
But there is more to Karma than simply insuring an improved situation in the next life. In can also, perhaps, ensure a better future in this life. In many societies, the younger generation are expected to look after and to care for the older generations. I like to think that we teach people how to treat us when we are older by how we currently treat our elders. When you think of it that way, it becomes very personal.
But is this "paying it forward" or is it selfishness disguised as a good deed? If "what goes around comes around", what are we going to reap tomorrow from what we are sowing today?