Choosing Light Over Loneliness

AN elderly man sits quietly in a nursing home in California, surrounded by pieces of mismatched furniture and a backdrop of tired wallpaper.

He looks ahead, arms crossed almost defensively. White shins peak from between trousers and socks like a scruffy schoolboy waiting out his after-school detention.

It's a picture of dejection and silence.

But then there's the man in the mirror. He is the window in this wall of decline. His compact silhouette captured by the mirror's oval frame is a concentration of dark-suited dignity that the bright daylight only intensifies.

The man in the mirror also sits quietly, hands resting on a cane, head gently tilted. But his demeanor suggests a sense of self-esteem, a reckoning of past accomplishments without the drag of age or time.

His seems a chosen solitude.

And there, perhaps, lies the force of this photo: the juxtaposition of dignified solitude and lonely decline.

Solitary contemplation is not a popular pursuit in this age of endless activity and vaunted companionship. Too often it conjures up the image of someone antisocial, ascetic, or ostracized. But rarely the contented.

Sitting peacefully perusing one's thoughts without material stimulus is seen as a time-waster. It's a blank television screen; a silent radio; a closed book. It's progress halted, busyness run aground. It's a man sitting quietly in a nursing home in California....

I sat for some time looking at this photo. It clung to my thought, not just because of the pitiful expression on the old man's face.

There was more. The picture seemed to say the choice is ours. How we choose to spend our time and measure our progress is not so much a function of where we are, but of what we think.

Two men in a nursing home surrounded by the same mismatched furniture and tired wallpaper make two different choices

One sits in the light.

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