Dirk Mullenger

Loving in the Forest of the Doomed

My 83 year old friend is entering what she calls ‘the forest’. It’s when you get old and discover the stark difference between how you imagined you would handle aging versus the bewildered confusion you experience when your hearing goes, your vision blurs, your beloved one’s memory goes BLANK, your aches & pains don’t recede and the doctor shrugs his shoulders with a ‘no big deal, you’re growing old’. A what-the-heck confusion sets in. Like being lost in a forest and no one knows you’re lost, no one can rescue you from the inevitability of decline. My God, what’s next?? Loss of limb? Loss of hope? 

—and in this fog, this forest of fear, where you most crave connection and empathy—no one has time for you. Your great spiritual truths which held such timber and tenor on Sunday mornings, no one can tend to now, cause it’s Tuesday for pete’s sake and they got work to do! So they say “Yes, let’s get together sometime soon—those were good points you were making, but I gotta go—goodbye.”

Hey old man: do you worship youth? Newsflash: they don’t worship you. Yer irrelevant. Gray, decrepit, slow, stiff, bewildered, unfashionable, and quaintly self-centered in your orbit of Who Knows Best. Your gray pallor expects to be heeded, while the pink-cheeked sparkly eyes share grins & quick-witted glances, laugh at a drop and seek exits to run out & play. You dodder, they sprint. You pause in thought while they fire off quips in rapid succession. You modulate, they capitulate. You contemplate, they sizzle. You monotone, they arpeggiate. You drone, they hummingbird. You remember being young, they can’t imagine you being young. Your familiarity with your own saggy skin and nodules they find abhorrent. Stretch your mind, you may relate to them; but they won’t relate to you, unless…

Is solitude our destiny? Is fearful loneliness in the forest of doom a foregone conclusion? Yes. Yes it is…unless…

Unless you love.

You have what everyone needs. Love is everyone’s first regard. It’s been your calling since youth—and surprise:  The calling still remains, perhaps the only calling that will last into eternity. Even in the forest of doom, you’ll discover a measure of respite—of relief, peace, joy—when you exercise love. 

For young & old alike, your interest in them interests them. Love resonates. They may be moved to reciprocate. Your loving care may incite a smolder of affection, a moment of curiosity, a synapse of engagement.

Love breeds joy.

If they are young, focus on their heart-felt pangs, so sincere in their watery-eyed earnestness, so new to them, so juvenile to you. They are confounded by their fresh encounters. Shallow Splinters! Peanuts! But don’t pontificate, you’ll exasperate them. Your know-it-all dismissal will be a slight, and unless you have their deepest trust (assume you do not), they’ll be gone. 

Love them. Listen to them. Listen some more. When they’ve made their points to their heart’s content—their heart, not yours—when they’ve shared their emotions and blown off steam—perhaps they may be open to hearing you. Maybe. Aesop them with a story from your life—you got a million of ‘em. If they listen, they’ll be listening with self-interest, and you will be contributing to their well-being. But even if they do not listen, your love will make an impression on their hearts & souls.

Who knows? They may even love you back, but regardless, even in the forest of doom, you will sense the residue of joy inherent in your act of love. The calling still remains, perhaps the only calling that will last into eternity. Love breeds joy. Lose your life in love.

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