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When “Lean on me” becomes essential to survival

Kathleen McQuillan
Posted 5/11/22

In her article entitled, “Taking Care: Our interdependencies, from nursing homes to glaciers,” that appears in the Spring 2022 edition of Orion Magazine, British essayist Daisy Hildyard …

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When “Lean on me” becomes essential to survival


In her article entitled, “Taking Care: Our interdependencies, from nursing homes to glaciers,” that appears in the Spring 2022 edition of Orion Magazine, British essayist Daisy Hildyard dives in deep to explore our integral relationship and experience with dependency, sustainability, and adaptation. Through her thoughtful and sensitive voice, she provokes thought and questions concerning these and related concepts that intersect in our personal and communal lives. She does so through the stories of three women living on different continents, in unique circumstances, with inter-related perspectives on survival.
Hildyard visits Anne, a woman in a skilled-nursing facility in London where she has resided for years since the onset of post-polio syndrome. Her gradual decline in physical mobility increased the need for assistance with her personal care and daily activities. Anne had lived life as a global traveler. Hiking and mountain climbing were her passions. When polio reappeared in mid-life, her experience of “loss” was devastating. But along her journey, she realizes that her life is not over. The article describes her gradually developing an expertise with “adaptation,” stemming from her passion for adventure, her imagination, and her tenacious path to discovery.
Pomm, a mother of three children, lives and works in a residential care facility near Chiang May, Thailand. She lives with and provides round-the-clock care to Elizabeth, who was placed in this facility by her daughter who was no longer able to care for her. If there was such an attentive and luxurious care facility in England, she would never have been able to afford it. So, she gratefully receives Pomm’s assistance.
Pomm is separated from her children by many miles and seldom sees them. They are in their village, cared for by their father so that Pomm can earn the money needed to provide for their most basic needs. Hildyard brings these intersecting realities together so that we can reflect on the meaning and implications of inter-dependency.
A provocative twist is that through the examination of these three women’s experiences with weakening physical ability and increased dependency, Hildyard walks us down the path of not only our own entropic process but also that of Planet Earth’s. With many undeniable signs staring us in the face — physical changes related to the human body’s natural aging process as well as climatic changes resulting from careless human activity — Hildyard turns attention to our precarious future. She respectfully reconsiders the concept of sustainability versus adaptation, and then points out that they needn’t be in opposition.
Much of her writing is devoted to the delicate balance between Earth’s multiple species and the intricate web of environmental systems that support their/our existence. When it comes to “survival”, it’s a shared future in which we are, indeed, all in this together. And whether we admit it or not, Mother Nature is very much in charge.
The article becomes an active read. It was difficult to passively cruise through it, absorbing the story for its own sake. The women’s experiences surrounding the need for and the delivery of “assisted care” carried me back to the years I cared for my own aging mother. Together, we travelled a long road exploring “interdependencies”. When she died in 2018, it became very clear how, and how much, we needed one another. My mother gave me a preview of the inevitable losses, the grief, and the fears. But once we accepted what was happening, we also discovered grace. It was acceptance and humbling in the face of what we could not control. And it led to deeper love for one another and pure joy with the days that we had left together, present through the journey right to “The End.” It was in this period that we began to understand what really mattered, shifted our priorities, and began to adapt. In short, we were determined to make each day “a good one.”
Hildyard’s writing helps expand that same awareness from the personal, micro-level to the planetary, macro. She hints it is our only hope. She doesn’t lay out a ten-point plan. She doesn’t inkle a way forward. She merely paints the picture and invites us to gaze into it and then draw our own conclusions. She shows us the beauty that becomes visible in our interdependency when it is valued. She sheds light on the elements that must be present so that it “works”. And she also shows how social systems can interfere or actually destroy the Love that is the heart and soul of “caring” — for people, the planet, or anything else, for that matter.
By the time we reach the final paragraph, the intersections between our human interdependencies and those found in our natural environment, become clearer. We are more able to see the necessity to rearrange our current priorities and admit that the clock is ticking. We still have choices. To be open to the journey. To cooperate.
I will try to remember Anne, experiencing Life as an adventurer, knowing full well there’ll be trails to navigate and mountains to climb. I’ll try to remember Pomm, accepting the challenges of her life with a positive vision for her future and her family’s— an attitude necessary for her to do her work with such sincere respect and devotion to Elizabeth. And I’ll remember Elizabeth, receiving Pomm’s assistance and support with gratitude and grace instead of resistance and anger.
These three women have entered my Hero Hall of Fame. Their stories have the power to help guide me through the uncertain times ahead. I’ll try to remember to apply their wisdom and fortitude. This story replenished for me our collective, life-affirming, reservoir of Hope. Hope, the cornerstone for our confidence, that we really can make things better in the disconcerting times we are facing.
Daisy Hildyard has written a beautiful story, and one that is well worth the read.