Last week I finished Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Thursday night I am going with the girls for a book discussion dinner followed by the movie. Movie review will come at a later time.
It’s the story of 93 year old Jacob who is wasting away in an old folks home and lapses in and out of day dreaming/remembering his time with the Benzini Bros. Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Through a series of unfortunate events Jacob finds himself aboard a circus train and soon falls in love with an elephant and a married woman. The circus is set during The Depression and travels around the country picking up the pieces of other shows that have fallen apart.
While most of the action takes place in the past, Jacob’s present situation really resonated with me. He may be 93 but his mind is still in it’s 20’s and he is lamenting the passing of his youth.
It’s no good. Even when I look straight into the milky blue eyes, I can’t find myself anymore. When did I stop being me?
Previous to my full-time profession as a mommy I was the Activity Director at an assisted living home. I loved keeping the old farts busy but it was easy to fall into a pattern of treating them like children. Often times because they acted like children. They spoke too loud, could throw temper tantrums if they didn’t get what they wanted and often the filter from their brain to their mouth was turned off. It wasn’t unusual to hear inappropriate and even very mean comments around the dining room.
Sometimes the monotony of bingo and sing-alongs and ancient dusty people parked in the hallway in wheelchairs makes me long for death. Particularly when I remember that I’m one of the ancient dusty people, filed away like some worthless tchotchke.
The elderly Jacob found himself frustrated with the way he was treated and his surroundings. That frustration would translate into general grumpiness and being mean to his care givers. I remember so well those very same people in my facility. We would do what we could to make them happy but would end up just rolling our eyes and chalk it up to another cranky old codger. Reading Jacob’s story reminded me that there was usually a good reason they were grumpy. Their bodies were broken, they felt abandoned in a unfamilier place, the food was not so great, their freedom was gone. No matter how lovely the facility, wonderful the food, how many activities were on the calendar or how sweet and cute the activity director was it still wasn’t home.
In one scene Jacob is frustrated at his decrepid situation and pushes his meal across the table in disgust. The resident Dr. says that he is suffering from depression and medicates him which leaves him in a compliant stupor. He was depressed, just like many of the residents where I worked. Medication was often the solution when actually a sympathetic ear to bend might have worked just as well.
Turns out that is just what Jacob needed. I was sad for the book to end and wanted to see what adventures awaited our cantankerous hero.
I recommend Water for Elephants. It is a sweet love story and a fast read. More importantly it is a reflection on how society treats the elderly and the weakest of us.