By: Janet Mendenhall
She wheeled herself up to her designated table in what for this hour would be a makeshift church sanctuary, though the occasional clatter of dishes and faint smells of Sunday lunch gave away its intended use. I was looking for an unclaimed chair and greeting my fellow congregants as I wound my way through the labyrinth of wheelchairs and walkers.
I have been visiting and worshipping at the nursing center in my neighborhood for several years now, and have come to know many of the residents’ names and even some of their stories. I have my favorites:
• My 90-year-old friend who after several recent falls is madder than a hornet that she has been slowed down by a wheelchair.
• My 87-year-old former nursing school instructor who misses no opportunity to hug, reminding anyone who will listen of the study done by North Carolina nurses that claims a dose of 12 daily hugs is necessary for us to thrive.
• The former Colorado history professor and my current movie buddy who is somewhat limited by serious injuries suffered on Colorado black ice.
All of them encourage and inspire me on a regular basis.
However, I didn’t recognize the woman who stopped me and quietly said, “I am so glad you’re here today. I can’t see very well any longer, and even with my glasses, I can’t read the words in the hymnal, but when I hear your voice, I can remember the words and sing along.” I smiled. I am known for my strong alto voice in that service, but this was the first time I had thought about it serving this particular purpose. I introduced myself and settled into the chair nearest her. I don’t know how I had missed meeting her before, but I was thankful for today’s introduction.
After the service, I wheeled the former nursing instructor back to her room, sang my twice-weekly offering of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” her favorite hymn of which she apparently never tires, and headed out the door with easily the prescribed quota of hugs.
My new friend was parked just outside the door and struck up a conversation with me. She described her sadness at losing her mate, her failing health, her relocation to the nursing center. She told me how she had prayed that she would die, how she felt like 87 years was a good, long life and how tired she was. But she hadn’t died, she said.
And now she was feeling like she needed to make good use of the time she had left. It would not be in her nature, and would require mustering up her courage, but she was pondering running for the presidency of the residents’ organization at the nursing center. There were folks there without advocates, and she thought she could lend her voice to make things better for them. She envisioned herself rolling down the hallways, poking her head into each room and visiting with everyone to see what it was that could be done to make their home even better. Were people getting adequate care? Was everyone comfortable with the surroundings? Was everyone’s voice being heard? She was going to pray about it some more, but felt certain there was more for her to do than to just rest and long for her life’s end.
I thought about our conversation as I walked home. I am not 87 years old, but sometimes I feel tired; too tired to keep trying to make this world a better place. And often, I feel like giving up. But if my friend can overcome her fear and fatigue and run for president, I think I can press on as well.
There was a song in my heart as I turned the corner toward home, and I said aloud, “I am glad you were there today, my new friend. Sometimes my eyes don’t see things as clearly as they should, but when I hear your strong voice, I can remember the words and sing along.”