Disclaimer: Some readers may find today’s post slightly insensitive and/or politically incorrect. Please consult your doctor before reading if you are pregnant, nursing, take heart medication, or in general just have a weak countenance.
When I was in high school, my youth group occasionally served with a convalescent ministry. Basically, we would visit assisted living facilities and meet with the residents. We might sing songs or help serve lunch or something, but mostly, we were there to bring the warmth and kindness of genuine human interaction to those that many in society are comfortable to ignore because they’re kept away in forgotten places.
Believe it or not, these visits were always events of hijinks and hilarity; mischief and mayhem; shenanigans and silliness. Something interesting was always bound to happen.
On one such particular occasion, a friend and I were walking down one of the hallways to find someone to visit with when we heard a call from one of the rooms. A crispy voice implored us to come inside. We turned and looked inside a room with the door wide open to find a petite, elderly woman sitting in a chair. She reached out one feeble hand and with one wrinkled index finger curling in and out, she beckoned us to come inside.
As she was summoning us, she said with a soft, crackled tone, “Come here young man. Come closer. Closer.”
We obeyed. “Yes ma’am, how are you today? Can we help you with anything?”
With sharp, piercing eyes and firm, raspy voice, “Do either of you boys have a pocketknife to cut me out of this chair? I gotta use the bathroom.”
It was then that we realized that she was harnessed into the chair with straps across her lap and torso. I stuttered a reply, “Umm, no ma’am, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a pocketknife. Would you like me to go get a nurse to help…?”
“No!” she exclaimed, quickly cutting me off. “No, no, no. No need for that. Just come here closer. Closer. See if you can loosen these straps for me.”
I cannot justly describe this scenario in words. But the combination of her calculated mannerisms, her menacing tone, and her unblinking stare of death had us terrified. The entire time she smacked her lips as if she was about to savor more than just the sweet taste of freedom from her shackles. Was this a Hansel and Gretel situation? Which was I—Hansel or Gretel?
I can still hear those smacking lips. In my nightmares.
As we spoke, we inched our way methodically backwards. “Sorry ma’am. I think we should get some help…” As soon as we were out of the doorway, we sped down the corridor to find a staff person. When we recounted our encounter with a nurse she coolly stated, “Oh yes, her, don’t worry about her. She’s always trying to escape.”
As odd and as frightening as this incident was, I’ve also found myself inspired by this woman who’s name I never caught. She lived in the moment. She lived with purpose and intention. She had a plan and goal. Many of us are content to live in our self-made prisons and self-locked chains. We’re okay to just let life happen to us and never take charge. We let circumstances define us, sitting in the cuckoo’s nest and never taking a chance to fly. We’re spoon-fed the soylent green of the media. We’re too consumed by our past and too preoccupied with our future that we never truly live in the present. Be thankful for your life. Be thankful for today and the time you have on this cherished earth.
As this elderly woman’s words have lingered over—haunted me—I am motivated to strive to live everyday full and free. Also, if I ever need to live in a nursing home, I’ll be sure to stow away a pocketknife just in case.
“All good things are wild and free.” – Henry David Thoreau