Someone might remember my blog of 4-21-07, “Milestones in Growing Old” (but probably not). In any case, in that particular blog I didn’t consider the whole range of a person’s career. You know, first as infant, then child, adolescent, and adult. I was concerned with how it goes after the first time you were called “mister,” then” sir,” then “Grandpa,” and expressed my dismay of unexpectedly (and I thought rudely) being referred to by some young man as “Pops.” I have until now naively believed that would be the end of it, surely there couldn’t be anything after Pops. I was wrong. I have recently learned from my vast network of spies and informants that I am now sometimes commonly referred to by some as “Old Mr. Langness.” This is, I believe, worse than Pops, and also indicates someone even older than a Pops. I am not aware of just when I crossed this rubicon, but apparently I have. Now I am wondering what will come next, if anything.
There is a phrase in Melanesian Pidgin that fortunately (maybe unfortunately) does not occur here (as far as I know), “Lapun Pinis.” This refers to an old person who has become so feeble and useless he or she cannot garden, fight, raise pigs, contribute to bride prices, funerals, or anything else. In other words you are, for all purposes, even though still alive, “finished.” Often there is a special ceremony for such a person, a kind of pre-funeral feast, put on by the entire community, ostensibly to honor the person and show him/her how much they are respected and admired. Pigs are killed and cooked, gifts of pork are given to relatives and others, some of whom have come from fairly long distances, a special meal is prepared for the “oldster,” and everyone says an early goodbye to the “Lapun tru” (the truly old). These can be quite emotional events as the person being so honored usually breaks down in tears, becomes unable to speak, sometimes collapses, and so on.
There is, however, another motive for such a ceremony as well. It is not a secret, but no one suggests it is the primary reason for the event, even though it probably is. The people believe in and fear ghosts. They think the ghosts of the recently dead can hang around the village and cause trouble for the living. A special piece of pork is carried around and rubbed on the ankles of everyone in attendance (including the anthropologist) and is then the subject of a speech by one of the community leaders, directed at the old person being honored, but everyone else also. This assures everyone that the person’s ghost is now placated and is not going to bother the living (they hope). We have no special term for such a person in our culture. But sometimes such a person might be described as “the living dead,” or “at death’s door,” “completely out of it,” “hanging on by a thread,” “a step away from the grave,” or some other such description. Of course no one aspires to this status but it is not uncommon. Usually when someone reaches this point they are conveniently placed in some special facility that exists precisely to deal with the problem. I have heard this described as “The Penultimate Arms.” Of course as bad as this may be, sometimes people say (only half jokingly I think), “Well, it’s better than the alternative.” I rather doubt it and I hope to move more easily into the final status of all, “The late Mr. Langness.” I wouldn’t worry a great deal about my ghost bothering you.
When I wrote “Milestones…” I recall I was commenting also on the idiocy surrounding our politics and in particular reading something claiming, “The Democrats will cave…” Sigh! Things change but just seem to stay the same year after year. I know that some think the Democrats “cave” too easily and don’t put up the fight they should. I suspect this is because most people don’t want to consider the fact that the two parties are now not that far apart on most things. They are both controlled by the same masters who buy Congresspersons without much regard for what their politics are said to be. And with respect to the current budgetary “battle,” it would be hard indeed, even impossible, to deny that budgetary reform is vitally needed. The negotiators are not so far apart about the budget as they are about what specific things should be cut. Republicans profess to be concerned about the national debt and the size of government, but they aren’t really. Democrats profess to stand up for the working class, education, infrastructure, health care, and such things, but don’t do much of anything about it. Both parties claim to be against “wars” but both continue to support them almost overwhelmingly. Some things are virtually sacred to both sides, Israel and the Pentagon are perhaps the best examples. There are a few on both sides, a very few I believe, that probably truly do support the traditions of their parties when it comes to management versus labor, government versus little government, quasi-socialism versus free-market capitalism, and other important differences, but over the past thirty or so years their numbers have shrunk and the voices of the survivors are mostly ignored. We do have, unfortunately, a basic one party system that will quite likely morph into a full-blown Fascist state, controlled by all-powerful corporate masters through political figureheads, that when asked to jump will simply ask only “how high?”