It had been a long day and I was somewhat sleep deprived after several nights of getting only four to five hours per night. I'd risen early to make it to the chiropractor's office before showing up to teach a class of five year olds. After completing my day at school, I visited with my dad where I found myself growing sleepy as he and I chatted. Everything within me wanted to head home where I'd settle into my pajamas and perhaps get into bed earlier than the nights before.
As I approached the nursing and rehabilitation facility where my father spent about a week in November, I remembered how I'd been trying to find time to visit one of the residents there. A struggle ensued as I grew closer to the entrance. What would it mean to Hilda, a family friend from the church I'd attended as a child, to have even a short visit from someone today? The answer to that question came in the memory of a tearful response to my taking leave on my last visit. Dinner could wait and my own plans were not as important as I remembered my promise. “I'll be back to see you.”
Imagine the surprise I had when I opened the front door of the facility to see Hilda, sitting alone only a couple of feet inside the door, facing the entrance, as if she were waiting on me! Her face lit up as I extended my hand and leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. The spark I've seen in her eyes was ignited and reflected off the bright blue springlike outfit she wore that day. “Let's go where it's warm, “ she said, turning her wheel chair towards the dining hall. She never let go of my hand, but instead drew it up to rest beside her warm cheek. I walked beside her down the long hallway, moved by this gesture of closeness.
We entered the dining room where residents were gathering for the evening meal. Some of the employees were going from table to table, securing large towel-like bibs onto the residents, while the residents themselves either slept or watched curiously both our entry into the room and the activity around the piano at the front. Hilda and I found a place at a table and joined the others in observing the two at the piano. A young man leaned over a woman, possibly his mother, I thought to myself. She seemed to be thoughtfully choosing the notes and playing with her one good hand as he stood by to encourage. Hilda and I continued with some small talk as I asked her about her therapy and tried to gauge how she seemed to be doing since my last visit.
It wasn't long before the young man began a conversation with Hilda, asking her if she wanted to play the piano also. I picked up on her apprehension as he invited her to come sit by his mom and play something. “I haven't played since I was a girl,” she said. He insisted that she come up and participate and my first feelings were protective in nature as I sensed she was feeling some fear. What took place after that is what has remained in my thoughts since that day.
Very tentatively, she stretched out her one good hand (her left), having had a stroke and lost use of her right arm. Pecking at the keys, like a child just experimenting, she made an attempt to play alongside the other woman. When the young man realized the trepidation with which she seemed to enter in, he asked her if she'd rather sing. He then played a few bars of what would be familiar to most as the theme song from the television show with Archie Bunker. It wasn't long before, I saw Hilda open her mouth and sing out the words, “Those were the days.....” and still moments later “guys like us they had it made.” She grinned at me and as I glanced around the room, I saw smiles come to the faces of others who had been merely watching from the sidelines.
Hilda and the mom both perhaps grew tired of this and moved their wheel chairs away from the piano and found themselves adjacent to one another, one facing the diners, the other facing the opposite direction. A beautiful and touching moment occurred between these two women who have both been reduced to using only one hand. I watched as they reached out and locked hands together as they expressed their friendship to one another verbally. Then I heard Hilda ask, “May I?” as she leaned over to plant a kiss on the other woman's hand. This was a most intimate moment of friendship as they both expressed words of love and concern for the other verbally. I felt I'd witnessed something holy. I knew these two women, who quite possibly had been born and raised in completely different parts of the country, had an affinity that transcended geographical and cultural boundaries. If anything at all, I felt I was observing something of a new culture and society of which I'd never been a part and might need to further understand.
As the conversation continued, Hilda told me a little about her father and how he had played a five string tenor banjo. He had played in a band when she was growing up and she herself had danced on a stage I was told. When she shared her favorite song, I heard the young man say, “Why don't you sing it to her?” handing me a microphone attached to the sound equipment there in the dining room. “You're kidding, right?” I asked. It soon became clear that he was not. He was very insistent and I found myself mirroring the response of Hilda when he rolled her wheel chair up to the piano. If Hilda could make an attempt with her one good hand to plunk out a song on the piano, then surely I can give it my best shot and sing to her in a microphone in front of a handful of lonely residents waiting patiently for their evening meal.
The first verse of “In the Sweet By and By” was definitely shaky as I sang with my head down intent on the words in the hymnal. I had stepped into unknown territory and realized it was my pride that was a hindrance to my giving this my all. As I made an inner commitment to give this my best shot and bless my friend Hilda, I sacrificed my dignity and made a choice to sing out on verse two, not only singing to Hilda but to the other residents. As I glanced around the room, I realized some who had been sitting motionless, staring off into space, were singing along and even gently clapping their hands to the music. There came that moment when I felt I'd entered into that sisterhood that Hilda and her friend felt when they clasped hands together. It was a sweet moment. It was a moment of clarity for me as I realized how needful it is to be touched, to hear music, to experience laughter... no matter who you are.
“We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blest,
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.”
What a promise for those living in bodies racked with pain, limited by limbs they can no longer use to play and dance as in their youth. No more sorrow or sighing, just the blessing of eternal rest. I am sure this detour from the usual for the residents was a blessing. My visit most assuredly blessed my dear friend as I saw the mist gathering in her eyes as I departed that night. But what about me? The sacrificing of my own agenda, my own comfort and letting go of my pride led to a blessing I'll not soon forget. For a brief moment, I found that sweet spot of true communion with God as I let go of my own plan and literally fell into His.
My final thoughts come from verse four....
“To our bountiful Father above
I offer my tribute of praise,
For the glorious gift of His love
And the blessings that hallow our days.”
I am thanking Him for the nudging of the Holy Spirit that led me to...
one of the least of these.... I was the recipient of a hallowed blessing.