I remember the first time I had to do it – I grimaced. With disgust on my face, I wanted to wash my hands as quickly as possible though they had been covered with gloves. Yet at the same time I heard a gentle whisper, “You are revolted – yet she is humiliated more deeply than your little disgust.” I knew this was true. I’m confident when she was 20, she never dreamed of not being able to wipe her own behind after a bowel movement. However, life sometimes just HAPPENS!
As I walk into the nursing home, I smell baby powder. It is an overwhelming scent. Honestly, I picture someone pouring it into a large pile in the corners so the odor of the powder takes over the lobby instead of urine or sickness. As I continue down the halls I see the same faces every week. They look up with a blank stare. Sometimes, you almost want to wave your hand over their eyes to see if their eyelids have movement. Are the lights on? Is anybody home? I’ve learned not to be dissuaded by that gaze….but it was not an easy task. The truth is that those looks are an almost audible voice saying, “Will you take a moment and say hello?” Will you shake my hand and pretend just for one minute that I still have dignity and that I am a person who commands respect and honor?” These once giants wait intentionally at the thresholds of their rooms with absolutely no interest on their face – yet it is a test for me. What they really want is a smile or a kind hello. They want you to say their name with joy and recognition as if they are your closest friend. Most don’t give you the satisfaction of showing any facial change when you do stop because they don’t want pity – they want genuine interest. So, don’t stop and care for show – they know a fake when they see one.
Admittedly, when I first began to visit, I kept my eyes forward and my ears shut because I had no idea what to say. Also, I had no idea what NOT to say… to these older ones who had not banked on being shut away in their latter years. Slowly it dawned on me that I was a coward. Every color and every culture and every malady seems to exist down those lonely well lit halls. As I faced my own fears….you know like the truth that I was afraid I would fail at loving them or saying the wrong thing…WOW! WHAT A SICK LIE! Purposefully, I started to make eye contact with every man and woman sitting in the hallways. I’m learning who I can gently touch on the shoulder and who to just smile at and who needs a hug. Also, I began to say hello and smile at the staff that cared for these shut ins.
Gradually, as my eyes opened to the hopeless and defeated cries of the hearts of the men and women sitting and crying and sometimes yelling aloud for help…I realized…they were just like you and me. They just want dignity and they just want love. Is that too much to ask for? Have you ever heard that song – “R.E.S.P.E.C.T – find out what it means to me?” Just some love. Just some respect. Just some good old fashioned dignity. Isn’t that what you want? Isn’t that what I want? Love? Respect? Dignity?
NOPE – I can’t fix their situations. I don’t know why each person is there. I don’t know why some have no visitors except on a major holiday and how some never have visitors- ever. BUT if I will be faithful to love and to respect and to honor – one smile at a time – one person at a time – perhaps one man will feel human again….AND maybe one woman will feel alive instead of useless and MAYBE ….just maybe that smile and that kindness will be what they remember on days when they are ignored by those who pass them by.
Cowardice is not attractive. Fear is ugly. You and I have to face head on those things that keep us from loving others as well as ourselves.
LOVE is always the answer and it always PUSHES FEAR OUT THE DOOR! THEREFORE, do yourself a favor and instead of feeling guilty or condemned for not taking action or for not knowing what to do or how to do it – Be BRAVE in living because the truth is that LIFE HAPPENS! It happens to you. It happens to me. It happens to those around us. It happens when we least expect it. So, join me in an effort of love and kindness in every day life and when life happens to you or me – perhaps the love and kindness we gave will come back as our friends.
FOLLOW Brave to Braver
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