When I was in fifth grade I joined the Legion of Mary. We young Catholics would regularly visit the local nursing home, which was made more personal for me because one of my own grandmothers was living there. I remember the many seemingly vegetative elders barely, if at all, moving or responding. There was that particular scent of sickness and antiseptics and institutionalized meals that were overcooked and bore little resemblence to real food. It was a scary place with people that didn’t seem like people. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was a Baby Boomer and we would proceed to do just about everything in our power to deny we were aging, or dying.
But a special movie, “Alive Inside”, is transcendent and allows us to consider a much deeper truth. And it doesn’t have to be scary. It can be liberating. In simplest terms, the movie explores elders reconnecting with their humanity through music. So simple and yet so profound. My words can never match what you actually see in Henry (above). Henry tells us so much about ourselves, that every human being deserves dignity and expectation of joys and comfort and not the ultimate in cynicism that a life as we know it is over. Being an elder is the final stage of our lives, but it doesn’t reduce its sacredness.
Henry also tells us something about how it is too easy for one generation to underrespect and underappreciate another. Possibly the most heartening part of the film is how people in their teens and twenties responded to Henry and “Alive Inside”. In him they see their own grandparents and it matters. A lot. Or maybe they just see people. From a generation in which race, ethnicity, sexual preference matter little, just maybe they’ve escaped ageism as well.
One also can’t be anything but overwhelmed by the angels who work day-in and day-out with elders. I’m pretty sure these angels would tell you they’re not special..that they get so much out of their work. But that’s the point. They see what others don’t. But “Alive Inside” allows us all to see.