January 18, 2011

The Old and Forgotten

For some time our church has had a Sunday-afternoon service at a local nursing home. Since our church is small (and hence short on pianists) I was asked to be part of the rotation. So for two years now I've been going once a month to the nursing home- I play a few hymns and somebody (for the last year or so, my dad) preaches.

When I began two years ago we met in a small, cramped room (with stacked tables and dingy curtains) and  only about 17 residents showed up. I was anxious to get used to the whole thing- I would go from person to person afterward and greet each one. I would take their hand- hug them- kiss them, and make small-talk to often unresponsive bodies. Sometimes they would stammer a thank you- sometimes only their eyes would look at me- lighting up with happiness- or else moist and infinitely sad. "Thank you." one woman once told me. "It stays with you all week." 

It was heart-rending to see neglect. To see hallways and dormitories and room after room with, primarily, mothers (there is about a 15-1 female/male ratio) starving for human contact- longing to be touched, to hear someone say their name (and not to tell them to be quiet, or to ask if they want to be fed... but just for the delight of saying it).

Yet somehow over the course of months my greeting deteriorated. There were good reasons... and not so good ones. For one thing our group got bigger- it became harder to get to everyone. Then there was habit- often we have had to leave right away to go to an event and there wasn't time. Bingo now meets in the room where we worship- the staff (and residents) are often waiting for us to get out so they can begin. I was sick several times in a row (and then sometimes they were sick) and I couldn't risk passing around infection.

But something happened in me as well, a musing and a selfish reluctance. It is difficult to know what to say to the elderly, it is wrenching to only say "hello" to a person when you know what they need is love and someone to sit with them and be with them- so that they are never alone again. 

Some of them are crazy. Most all of them smell bad and can't communicate. There are some particularly repulsive ones- and a few creepy men. And I have a peculiar distaste for saying hello to half of a room and leaving the other half without hellos (be it that I fear they will feel bad, or because it confronts me with my own discrimination (as I avoid the more difficult cases), or simply that I have a conceited notion of accomplishing an entire task or not doing it at all.)

Anyway, this last week I was convicted about the whole matter. How could any reason cause me to withhold what little comfort I am able to give- even if it can not be exhaustive? Shall I not love one soul because I am incapable of loving thirty? And what would I do if I were in their position? I don't mean if I were one of the temporary residents, or one with regularly visiting family. I mean what if I were one of the ones that is alone? What would I not do for a moment of love?

I was reminded of musings along the lines of what I thought of when I read The Metamorphasis last year.

What if I were something insurmountably repulsive? (Would you still love me, sister, if I were a beetle?)

Still, the answer I came up with was an assured yes. I do not love my family for their faces, and I don't think they love me for mine. Even you who read my blog can attest that you don't enjoy reading these words because my smile goes along with them.

But what if my soul was repulsive as well?

What if I had not had parents who had loved and corrected me? What if God hadn't reached out and made me a new creature in Christ? What if years bitterness and hate had festered inside of me till my mind and heart and soul were as twisted and mangled as my body?

Would you kiss my hideous face?

Oh, that God would give me grace to walk through those doors and for just thirty short minutes- forget myself...

To give without asking. To touch without fear. To love without thanks.

To forget... for the sake of the forgotten.


  1. I have found it easy to love because I have been surrounded by lovable people with beautiful souls. And I'm frightened by the prospect of how hard it is to love the unlovable. [But God's grace is so freely given . . .]

    This post fills me with a good kind of sadness.

  2. Thanks, Steve!

    Mmm, I feel the same way, Hayley...

  3. Congratulations on being featured with this at TheHighCalling.org (coming at 2pm this afternoon).

    Your thoughts are blessing others.

  4. L.E., This post really touched my heart. You are a kind and caring soul and God sees. Thanks for sharing and keep up the writing. You have a gift.

  5. I will think of Kafka and nursing homes next time I'm repulsed or question the meaning of a small act of love.

    Thank you for making us think...and reflect.

  6. How exciting!!! Thank you, L.L!

    Oh, Kim! I'm so glad. :-) Thank you very much.

    Thanks, Ann! Mmmm... a small act of love... Yes, I suppose that's what they are... Small, but so important...

  7. "Would you still love me, sister, if I were a beetle?"

    I thought of how I act when I see an ugly beetle. I fling my arms around and turn up my nose and let out some type of freaky sound. I want my actions to feel like love to people, and not as if I've just seen a beetle.

    So glad to have you featured a The High Calling.

  8. Thank you for your insightful thoughts. My girls and I are regulars at the local nursing home, and I understand so much of what you're saying here.

    So pleased to see you featured at The High Calling today.

  9. You wrestle with questions we too often leave unasked. You are very brave.

    Loving just one, if you can't love all - we're not God; He doesn't ask us to be. Thank you for sharing this. I am glad to have found you through The High Calling today!

  10. This is such a beautiful reflection. And a convicting one. Too often we avoid discomfort when stepping into it is what is required. You have opened my eyes to my own ways in this matter. Thank you for that.

  11. Thank you for your honesty and for the challenge your words present. I am convicted too. How thankful I am that Jesus had the opposite kind of discrimination - he went for the marginalized, sick, ugly, sinful. If he hadn't I wouldn't be writing here.

  12. Thank you so much, everyone! Your comments really mean something to me. (Graham, I'm so glad you brought that out- yes! Oh, Christ loved us while we were yet sinners- while our souls were repulsive! How great and marvelous is He!)

    I'm so glad we can be of mutual encouragement to one another!