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Post Column: Sophia's Chinerica: Youth too willing to give up on seniors

During the 55th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film, I watched The Last Station, a documentary by Catalina Vergara and Cristian Soto about the residents of a Chilean nursing home.

For many in the audience, including the filmmakers themselves, the atmosphere inside the nursing home was definitely “deadly silent.” Every morning when the residents woke up, the radio host would announce someone’s death; there were newcomers, but no one really talked with one another; they moved like snails and dozed off all the time; above all, they were preparing for death.

But for me, those seniors had their own pursuits and therefore, they were alive.

They were not totally silent. They could be communicating with one another on a different spectrum or using a different “language.” When we are younger, we are more eager to express ourselves to win others’ recognition. When we get older, maybe we no longer have to do that because we already know who we are. Maybe nature was asking those old people to go back to purity and simplicity, just like the time when they were born.

They were all trying to connect — with living friends, deceased friends, nature, God and death. Among them, one old man gave up his operation and went on an adventure to record sounds from rivers and mountaintops. At the very last station in their lives, they were still trying to realize their last value.

Then it occurred to me that what happened in that Chilean nursing home could be universal. Those places are like trash fields for children to “dump” their “useless” parents and for society to “dump” its “broken robots.” But at the same time, have we thought about our seniors’ still-alive spirits and wishes?

In China, some old people in a nursing home were trying to join a comedy competition in a different city, but their daughters and sons strongly opposed it.

Funnily, when those old people needed help and companionship, their children were always busy. If old people want to do energetic things like young people, they would be viewed as crazy and ill-behaved. In Italy, old people in nursing homes are given special pills to keep them quiet, forcing them to shut their mouths, as if the elderly are supposed to be silent. Are American nursing homes similar to those?

Maybe it’s not that senior citizens don’t have energy to do things, but rather that social norm is too narrow to fit on their wish lists. Maybe we need to change our deeply rooted conception of the weak, helpless, hopeless, vulnerable old people. Maybe we need better-established social facilities for seniors to realize their unfinished dreams or final wishes.

We need to change our minds and take action now. Because the seniors today will be our tomorrow.

Bingxin “Sophia” Huang is a master’s student at Ohio University who is studying at the University of Leipzig this semester and a columnist for The Post. Send her your thoughts at bh586611@ohiou.edu.

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