I’m that lady who alternately weeps and cracks jokes. It looks like insanity, but it is actually exactly how to stay sane.
Today I met a 70yr old version of myself.
Every week, some of our students and one of our staff go next door to an assisted living home to lead a Bible study. Every week, whoever goes comes back with full hearts and good stories. Those people are amazing. Sometimes only of a few of them show up, sometimes more than 5. Sometimes several people leave in the middle. It’s not just a place for old people, it’s for anyone who needs assistance in living, so there are people as young as 18 and one lady who is 97 and many of them are noticeably “different.”
Today the 97yr old woman came (I’ll call her Beth), as well as two other women (I will call them Cindy and Lily). Cindy left early because her bipolar disorder was making it hard for her to sit with a group of people. She apologized profusely, but exited quickly. Lily was the old version of me and she spent part of the time cracking jokes, noticing random things (“Look out that window! There’s a plane that just flew over the peak!”), and the other part of the time, she wept openly….
Initially everything was “normal.” We explained what we would do that day for the Bible study and we talked a bit about what the verses said. Then we wanted to apply the truth found in those verse to a sphere of society (like government, media, church, family, etc). The idea in the book was about reconciliation and when we started talking about that in the context of a family, Lily suddenly stood up and turned away from the group. We urged her to stay with us and let us pray for her. She did. She also accepted a long hug from one of my students. Then she sat back down and proceeded to make more jokes.
This kind of thing happened several times while we sat there together.
What really got to me was that I was struggling with my own thoughts. I realized today how fragmented my own family has become and, knowing I have no power to fix it, it was really getting me down. So every time Lily started weeping about her family issues, I felt like crying, too.
Then I asked Beth what she was doing for Christmas. Beth is the kindest and most wonderful woman you have never met. For being almost 100yrs old, her humility, concern for others, wisdom and humor are just exactly what you hope old age will do to you. I think Jesus wears a t-shirt that says, “I’m with Beth.” Every week she wants to pray for the younger people who live in the assisted living place because she feels like there is an age divide and she wants them to feel loved. Every week some tidbit about her life is brought up and she shares it like a treasure.
Today was no exception. Except. Except that today when she told us that she will be spending Christmas day with her daughter and granddaughter, she also mentioned that it will be the first time spending Christmas with family in many years.
I felt outraged at this news. Also, I felt sick. If Beth’s children (she has five who are all still alive and well) don’t think it’s worth the effort to visit her, how will any of us lesser life forms not be abandoned in our old age?
After we had left and I had parted ways with the students, I sat in my room and cried and cried and cried for Beth. Why are we here if not to take care of each other? How can we abandon people who need us just as babies need us? We abandon them because they are not as cute as babies, they have opinions we don’t agree with, they drain our time and our bank accounts. But we would never treat babies the way we treat old people and babies have done nothing for us, while the old people in our lives have been pouring themselves out for years.
I say “we,” because I am so, so guilty of withholding this kindness and care. It’s a confession. Beth is not complaining about being abandoned. Even Lily, in her tears, was not whining, but merely too full of grief to hold it in. At one point Lily’s tears came from her admission that God had never abandoned, but always took care of her.
Sometimes I am truly overwhelmed by the reality of things like this happening all of over the world, every hour of the day. It is then that I am so grateful that God exists and that it is he and not myself who carries these burdens. Saying that, I realize that I don’t even have to carry the burden of my own family fragmentation.
It makes me think of the people in Jerusalem, welcoming Jesus with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna.” The word means, “Save us!” We sing it with joy and thanksgiving and equal amounts of grief and desperation, for we need salvation from the God who saves.
And we need people like Beth and Lily in our lives… just the same as they need us.