Reflections on aging
|A downturn in my mother-in-laws' health recently brought me into the world of rehabilitation centers and assisted living facilities. I was prepared to get upset both with the horrendous system and the sad realities of growing old and losing your independence; I was braced emotionally to deal with depressive scenes and people I was going to feel sorry for. The first few days brought some of that, for the world is always imperfect when we are scared and upset. But what I wasn't prepared for? Were the angels on wheels; the wrinkled children smiling; the attitudes of grace and optimism that showed themselves as each day passed.
They met me at the front door of the rehab center in wheelchair and bathrobe with a smile and an out of nowhere "I Love You" for me - a complete stranger. How could you not come back with a smile and "I Love You" in return? One appeared with his walker and tipped his ball cap to me with great dignity as I passed by, as politely as might a fine gentleman in top hat and tails. They came out and amongst contrasting sad, huddled, slow movers, wheeled themselves past me down the hall with baby dolls in their laps and grins on their faces as they scooted themselves with an enthusiasm that made making it to the end of the hallway seem as joyous an accomplishment as a runner breaking the tape in a race just won. They came rolling into the open and inviting door of the business office where I sat signing papers and with the same air of seriousness that a five year old might bring to the first day of kindergarten, announced quietly when asked, that they were just there to "listen and learn".
They let me into their rooms at the assisted living facility, graciously and with sincere welcome, as if I was a long unseen friend; fortunately large, airy rooms that they are allowed to decorate however they'd like, and fill with their own furniture and things. It struck me as I walked in, that if we're lucky, we start out as children in "our own rooms"; a special place that is all our own to keep our toys and little bits of ourselves. And then - again if we're lucky - we end up in the same. The first room I walked into had beautiful dolls on the bed and on shelves; there were ribbons and pretty pictures on the wall; everything done in pretty hues of purple and pink. And I thought at the time, a child would find this room magical.
They revealed themselves through their stories told to me. A 90 year old woman, hard of hearing, debilitated and losing her eyesight, had been moved to the assisted living facility after an entire life spent in the state of Tennessee. A son living here had no choice but to move her to California. As she was wheeled through the front door on the day she arrived, the director met her and her family, and as they rolled down the hall to her new room and home, said that they'd fixed it up nicely and that she hoped she would be very happy there. The woman smiled and looked at the director and said confidently "honey, I just know I'm gonna be happy here."
"And how do you know that?" the director asked.
"Because I told myself I was. And so that is how it is going to be."
These angels reminded me it's one thing to talk about the importance of having a positive attitude in our lives ~ and another thing entirely to actually maintain and live one. They stood out to me because of their smiles and grace that were a direct result of how they were viewing their world. They lifted me up and helped me to find my own smile and grace so that I could offer it back in return.
A week that started out sad and depressing, has turned out to be full of lessons and surprisingly uplifting experiences. My mother in law is doing better and getting the help she needs. And I?
I am hoping that I grow up to be an angel on wheels ~ a wrinkled child smiling...