I was reading about something that makes a lot of sense to me. (You should read it too!)
It’s a piece by a writer my friend Ella recommended to me – Atul Gawande. Weirdly, I stumbled across this and bookmarked it to read later because of the subject matter, not realising it was by Mr Gawande.
Life can be like that. Stars align, kinda thing. You find the right things at the right time.
The piece was about a physician named Bill Thomas. Bill loved looking after people, working together, keeping it local, making a difference, home, animals, learning, being self-sufficient. All great things.
He’d worked as an emergency doctor in a hospital for a while and then, keen to swap nights for day work, started a new job as medical director of a nursing home. He was pretty mortified by what he saw when he took the job. Depressed and unwell residents. Hushed rooms. A place for people to hang about for a while, as they wait to die.
Bill wanted to change things. He figured out the ‘Three Plagues’ of life in a nursing home – boredom, loneliness and helplessness and knew that MORE LIFE was the remedy for them all.
Two dogs, four cats and one hundred or so birds were what LIFE looked like to Bill. Then he added rabbits and chooks. Next were hundreds of indoor plants, a beautiful flower garden and vegetable patch. In a nursing home. They also added on-site childcare for the staff of the nursing home as well as an after-school program.
I can hear you wondering how this could actually work, and I’m here to tell you that there were many, many teething problems and hurdles to jump as all this came to be. For sure. Bill pushed on anyway, revolutionising the nursing home for both staff and residents – bringing it to life.
Then some really good stuff started to happen.
Death rates fell, drug costs/usage fell (to something like 38% of what’s used in similar facilities). Residents simply didn’t need to be medicated as much/often. People were happier.
‘The lights turned back on in people’s eyes.’ Bill said.
Some were confounded by the amazing shift, but not Bill.
‘I believe that the difference in death rates can be traced to the fundamental human need for a reason to live,’ he explained.
Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hens, plants, flowers, growing vegetables, children. Very good reasons to live.
An indifferent, almost non-responsive resident’s life was transformed when he was offered two parakeets. In place of boredom, they brought spontaneity. In place of loneliness, they offer companionship. In place of helplessness, they provided a chance to take care of another living thing.
This got me thinking a lot. About how people like you and me live and deal with life.
You might know, my lovely sister-in-law passed away recently. Another friend is having a very, very tough time. Someone else’s best friend’s son is terribly ill (and only 3 years old.)
When I think of all those things together, I feel pretty horrible. But I know that we must all go on, and I know that we’ll get used to this new normal, that we don’t know the ending, but that we’ll be okay if we just hang tight.
And then I thought about what we hang tight to.
Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hens, plants, flowers, growing vegetables, children.
Partners, dear friends, blankets, cosy rooms, beautiful trees, nice soup, delicious tea, dawn chorus.
And I thought about what we love to feel and do a la the parakeet man – spontaneity, belonging, companionship, kindness, compassion, connection.
And then I wondered about you.
When it all seems a bit too much, or unfair, or endlessly unright… what do you hang on to?
What are your steady, go-to comforts? What gives your life meaning?
What do you love to feel and do, if we’re talking ULTIMATE feelings and doings.
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