One always gets to thinking about the old age and what it means. The lucky or unlucky ones get to be old and either enjoy it or dread it depending upon their circumstances. Then there are those who go early due to disease, accident or incompetent doctors who make mistakes but are not accountable. Hindus believe that each person lives a predetermined course in life so there is not much anyone can do about it. So it is ideal to plan for the old age whether or not you get there one day. It is like planning for buying a house or a car for which you have to save unless you are the type who believes in the plastic credit card that is so fashionable these days.
I see many old people who are bent, feeble and struggling to stay on their feet although they may have once been athletic, very energetic and full of life. The old age comes to most people and it can be a blessing as well as a curse. It is a blessing to those who have lived a very useful life and are remembered as generous, kind and helpful persons who did great things in their life. Their life is an inspiration to all who strive to be like them. They are like old wine that gets better with age. Then there are those who have totally wasted their life by getting addicted to drugs or alcohol and have gone through failed marriage, failed jobs, failed family and have ended up destitute in their old age because they lived their life recklessly. The world is full of such people who never planned for their rainy days.
There is a story about a brilliant Indian man who was a top notcher in his journalism class at Harvard. His classmates all graduated and got excellent jobs and encouraged him to do the same but he said that he wanted to be a famous writer and would write about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His lovely American wife worked hard to support him and his folly and put up with him for a long time gently trying to persuade him to get a job but he failed to do so. He even went to an interview in India for a lucrative job but walked out when they told him that his job in New York would include giving the visiting dignitaries a “good time” meaning pimping.
Finally his loving wife left him leaving him with no support and destitute so he who was used to smoking fine tobacco and good living became sick and died with his dream of becoming a writer unfulfilled. His wife did not come to his funeral but was one day seen kneeling at a pauper’s grave in some forgotten cemetery because she still loved him.
There are many people who waste their lives even after getting some education. Such people have no friends, no one to help them in their old age and leave no legacy. Some end up in jail because of something they did in a fit of rage or foolishness. There was a fellow from my father’s village who was a thief and spent most of his life in or out of jail but living a life of a beggar and crime. He had no education and no skill other than pick pocketing. He one day showed up at our house and told us that he traveled by train all over the country without ticket because he was an expert in avoiding ticket checkers. He demanded and got new clothes and shoes plus pocket money from my father because my father was a generous person and felt pity for this fellow. This despicable person then disappeared for good, never to be heard from again. What happens to such people? Someone with Harvard education dies and is buried in a pauper’s grave and the other without any education and skill except thievery dies by the road side with no one to care for him. Both are misfits and lived recklessly depending on other’s charity.
The old age comes to most people who live a normal life, have job and raise a family. Some enjoy their old age with their children and their grand children, travel all over the world and take care of their spouse. They are the lucky ones but how many are so lucky? What if one day your life is turned upside down by war, famine or natural calamity? How does anyone prepare himself for such disasters that hit so many people? How does a person prepare himself when he is suddenly laid off from his job because the coal mine or the steel mill in his small town is closed? There are millions of people who find themselves in dire straits due to no fault of their own and no one to help them.
Often people think that their kin and children will look after them in their old age but many are deceived. In some countries in Europe, their governments look after the old people by making health care free or affordable. The social workers check on them from time to time and tend to their needs. But poorer countries can’t afford such care for their old citizens so they depend on their family. Now a days there are many fancy old age homes in many countries where one can retire in comfort. Their all needs are taken care of but at a steep price so it serves only those who can afford. This leaves vast majority of people on their own. Think about the poor people in Asia and Africa.
In India some people choose a life of wandering sadhus who are religious people and have no families. They live often in shelters provided for them and get food by begging. Among the Buddhists, you see the monks in saffron robes going out with the begging bowls early in the morning. People give them food because they feel that it is their duty to do so. But ordinary people are not wandering sadhus or monks. Those who are employed by the government and serve a long time, retire with a good pension that is often adjusted for inflation so they manage to live a decent life in the old age. The wife gets the pension in India if the husband dies. However, others are not so lucky who work for private companies or are self employed. It is often the staggering cost of health care in the old age that dooms most people who do not have insurance.
I understand that in Australia everybody is taken care of by their healthcare system no matter what the cost. It is so in France, England, Nordic countries and Belgium. Their healthcare system is the envy of the world. Among the poorer countries only Cuba can claim to have the universal health care but the Cuban revolution was made on the premise that everybody should have free education and healthcare .Their land reform is exemplary because it gave land to the landless peasants for the first time making the land more productive but other countries have not been able to do it due to corruption that breeds like flies in their capitalistic societies.
When all is said and done, there is really no one responsible for your old age except you in most countries. This is where a long term planning becomes very useful. After taking care of the education of your children and paying for the house and other expenses, you are left with your spouse to take care of if you are married and just yourself if you are not. So spend the money wisely and save a good portion of what you earn in a lifetime for the old age because money is the only friend you get left.
There is a saying that goes like “How you spend your dash” is more important than how long you live. On the grave stone you see it inscribed with something like Born ,year — Died year. I will end it with a story about an old man and how he spent his remaining days.
He lived alone in an old house by himself and took care of himself as best as he could because he wanted to be free in his old age. His son and daughter in law tried to move him into a home for the aged and sell the house but he decided not to leave and carry on as best as he could. One day he saw a bunch of teen agers trying to steal his old car so he gave them a chase and caught one of them. He found out that he was a refugee from Laos who had settled in the neighborhood. The Lao gang roamed freely doing bad things like stealing cars, selling drugs and even raping the sister of this fellow because he refused to join the gang.
The old man thought that the young fellow was not a bad person and decided to help him by giving him odd jobs around the house and even gave him all the tools from his workshop so that he could become a carpenter. Then the gang beat up this Lao boy but no one could go to the police because everyone was terrified of the gang. So one day the old man wearing a long coat went to the house of the gang leader in the evening and said that their criminal days are over and they should leave the boy alone. But they laughed and threatened the old man with guns. He then slowly put his hand inside his coat pocket to take out something that the gang members thought was a gun so they shot him dead in front of a crowd that had gathered. The old man did not have a gun but only a cigarette lighter. He gave his life so that this murder that was witnessed by so many would now bring in the police and put these bad people in jail. The young Lao boy did not know that the old man was dying of cancer and had only a short time to live. It is a Clint Eastwood movie.