"If I'll have to be around the old people, I'm not working there. I just don't feel comfortable around them. I mean, I can't even understand what they're saying half the time!"
Dismissively, I rejected my father's nagging proposal that I apply for a summer job at a local long-term care center, arguing that I'd lose my patience much too quickly in attempting to interact with elderly residents. However, with my father being, well, my father, I reluctantly filled out a job application, reluctantly attended an interview, and, 5 days later, reluctantly commuted to an orientation for my position as a 'resident partner'. Although I initially viewed the job as a prison sentence which I had been condemned to serve for 8 hours per day, the care center would eventually come to serve as a clarion call, challenging each and every preconceived notion I held in regards to a globally misunderstood population, and by extension facilitate the development of a more socially conscious personal character.
From the moment I stepped foot in the care center that would soon become a home-away-from-home for the length of my summer, the entirety of my perspective concerning senior citizens was entirely turned upon its head. These elderly persons were nothing near the stereotypical portrayals of the generational group which I had taken at face value and had accepted to be unalterably true; these individuals appeared to be exactly that: individuals. These individuals laughed as if no-one were watching, grinning from ear to ear. These individuals wore expressions of abandonment, fighting against tears of sorrow. These individuals engaged in enthusiastic conversation with acquaintances, recounting the latest achievement of a granddaughter. These individuals engaged in solitary introspection, attempting (albeit unsuccessfully) to piece together distant memories of a late wife. Where I had inserted my simplistic view of senior citizens as a static monolith, these individuals showcased a mosaic of human emotion, destroying the ideological box I had structured around their collective identity.
Nonetheless, while the past notions which I had nurtured were quickly deprived of their vitality as a direct consequence of the myriad behaviors exhibited by the care center's residents, I developed a more comprehensive and impactful understanding of the elderly population through my interactions with residents suffering from neural afflictions, namely a frail, endearing woman named Constance.
Resultant of the frequency with which Constance and her wheelchair seemed to bump into me, it happened that a friendship blossomed between she and I. Revealing to me one afternoon that she had endured a stroke decades ago, Constance passively lamented the implications of such an experience, among which existed a speech impediment compromising the ease with which she could engage in conversation. For some odd reason or another, this confession served as a catalyst, utterly decimating any remnant of my elementary view in regards to this social demographic. Perhaps owing to the intimate nature of such a statement, or perhaps owing to the period of introspection such a statement encouraged within me, Constance's words facilitated a realization of the depth of the innumerably varied experiences undergone by senior citizens. Not only did Constance demonstrate to me the dynamic, rounded character of elderly individuals; Constance unwittingly offered me a glimpse into the unfortunate reality that neural diseases are deeply misunderstood, resulting in the reduction of afflicted persons to the definition and symptoms of their disease.
Armed with a newfound awareness of the subtle dehumanization suffered by those found in circumstances mirroring Constance's, my interest in the function and coordination of the brain and its activity was magnified. Moreover, my tentative decision to pursue a career in neurology—in order to reduce the marginalization of elderly individuals by means of amplifying general knowledge concerning neurological diseases—was solidified.
Regardless of whether this aspiration comes to pass, or I head down a different path, it will remain true that I left my summer job with so much more than a paycheck.