Tuesday, October 21, 2014

If You Don't Have Much To Offer

With no traffic and no children to chew up the clock, I arrive at the nursing home too early.  Stacks of cafeteria-style plastic breakfast dishes still clutter all the tables in the main dining room, and up front, a row of residents is in the middle of exercising from their wheel chairs.

I quietly slip in the back door, hoping to not interrupt the lifting of arms and legs, but several faces light up in recognition as they turn my way.  It's indescribable how welcomed and loved I feel in this moment.

The man who was born with several holes in his heart raises his arms to wave me towards him.  I call him by name and grab the trembling hand he holds out to me.  Unless I focus really hard on reading lips, I never know what he's trying to communicate, but it doesn't matter.  All he wants is someone to reach out to him, to enter his lonely world, even if it's just for a few short minutes.

Today, we "talk" about the gold LSU hat he is sporting, the frozen coke in his hands, the cooler autumn weather outside.

When I glance across the room, another lady tries to catch my eye.  She doesn't call me over, but it's obvious from her tight smile and intense gaze that she is hoping I will lavish a little attention on her, too.

She's been here for several years.  I know her face but not her name.  Still, I notice that her countenance is so changed from the closed-off woman I saw last month.  I offer a hug, kiss her cheek, and ask how she's doing today.

"A lot better than the last time you were here," she responds.

We talk of my twins who are in kindergarten, and I realize this is only the second trip I've ever made without my children.  Before, I felt I could at least offer my children up as a gift to these residents.  Now, I have only myself.

To my left, another lady holds out her hand to me.  Hers is the color of deep, burnished bronze, mine of caramel creamer.  Today, though, she holds on to me like a newborn babe, her grip tight and firm.

 "Oh Jesus..." she murmurs.  "Oh Father..."

It's obvious she's in pain.  When I ask her name, I learn it is Ms. Buela, and my heart feels a sadness, remembering the Ms. Buela who used to talk with me about her crocheting projects  each month.  I always looked forward to her loud-printed muumuus and soft, grandmotherly roundness.  Without her, the room seems that much more drained of color, of life.

This Ms. Buela before me is thin like the willow tree, walnut-hard angles where the other had milky, flowing curves.  Yet, there is strength in her wiry frame.  She will not let me go, and I wonder if just the touch of another person is enough to help stem the pain she feels, even if just for a few minutes.

Still tight in her grasp, I bend down and speak aloud a prayer over her.  

It is all I have to offer.

The faces in this dining hall are the same but are always changing, too.  Each month, I come to them with not much to give--I can't heal them; I can't take away their pain or restore their youth; I can't offer them a better place to spend their last days.

I can only give a bit of myself--a touch of affection, a friendly smile, a greeting full of love and kindness.

No, it's not enough.  It's not world changing.  But it is a gift freely given out of love and compassion, something our world needs so much more of.

And in return, in their own way, they give what they can, too--a smile, a handshake, a word of greeting.

When I leave for the day, I am the one who feels loved. 

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