“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky
You may remember my new friend, the 94-year old sweetheart Dorothy Cherry. Even her name is sweet. This woman has a heart of gold and upon first meeting her, I knew I’d be seeking her out in my visits. Unfortunately last Sunday, she had a fall during the community bingo game, which I witnessed. I talked to her a bit afterward and could see that she was very upset. She tried to have me take her outside and hail a cab to get her back to Leisure World, but obviously she already was home, even if she didn’t want to stay. I tried to calm her down, we talked about her great-grandson, whom she carries two photos of in her purse. But she was distraught, as if the fall was a harbinger of the end of her life, the final turning in of her “ability-card.” I promised to see her when I visited next, but of course Vernon had his own fall, which threw everything off for a few days, including my promise to Dorothy.
So on Friday, I sought her out at the end of my visit to Vernon. She was sitting in her wheelchair, in her room, reading Our Daily Bread, an inspirational magazine. I asked if it was okay if I came in and she reached her arms out to me.
“I’ve been so depressed,” she said. “I hate living in this place day after day. I’m the oldest one here, you know. I really don’t want to be here.”
I knelt next to her and held her hand and listened for awhile. It felt weird to offer my two cents to someone so much older and wiser, but I told her what I could think of: that even though I am still out in the world, moving around in it from place to person, I have learned one way to get through my own challenging season, and I think it is probably the same thing that will work for her, for anyone. It’s really quite simple: look for a small story in every day—and if you can’t find one, make one. For Dorothy, she might find another patient who needs a listening ear…or maybe a staff member who needs a special hug or compliment (they work SO hard, after all.) It might not seem like much, but its going to make each day stand out from the next.
“There is a reason you are still here, Dorothy. Even being the oldest person in the home gives the other patients hope. You still have a purpose in life, even if you aren’t in the place you thought you’d be now. God hasn’t taken you home yet. And the more you do this, the more you find that hint of purpose, you’ll remember your joy. You are a giver, keep finding ways to give.”
Bloom where you are planted. Someone said that to me once in a dark time. It sounds so easy and even cheesy. But sometimes it is the hardest thing in the world.
I prayed with her, and hoped that brought some comfort. She did smile and thanked me. I thought of her constantly after that because my heart had grown for her even more. You know how it is…when you try to help another, you are really helping yourself. I felt those words for her were equally words for me. She had become part of my purpose.
Today, at the end of our visit with Vernon, I brought the kids to meet Dorothy. She was full of sweet smiles again and hugged us all, grabbing Maki’s arm, telling him about our visit the other day. “I had been so blue,” she said, “but now I feel hopeful again.” She tried to pull Justine in her lap, but of course she couldn’t lift her (I hardly can, either!) but I loved the impulse. She obviously loves children and company.
On our way out, Justine said, “She’s a really nice lady, but where are all the pictures on her wall?”
And Maki said, “She’s so sweet and loving. I know exactly what I’ll do with that long canvas we got yesterday at the art supply.”
Here I had brought the kids to minister to Dorothy, but she had touched both of them.
Here is Maki working on his canvas for her wall. “What kind of colors do you think she’ll like,” he asked.
“Happy colors,” I said.
“Of course,” he responded, rolling his eyes. “I knew THAT.”
Thank you, Dorothy, for giving us a sense of purpose today. We love you.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
(If any scheduled visitors want to pay a visit to Dorothy, please let me know by email, and I’ll send her room number along. You’ll be blessed by a hug, I assure you.)