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By Marian West March 16, 2012
Encounter – Compassion – Reading Time: 4 min
This past Saturday, I experienced one of my most unforgettable encounters thus far. It struck me and will stick with me forever. I was walking through the 5th floor corridor of a nursing home, when I heard, “HELP! HEEELP! HELP ME!!!” I could not ignore such a desperate cry. I entered the resident’s room, not sure what I’d find.
© Heart’s Home
I saw an elderly woman upon her bed, by the window, shades drawn. Her body hunched into a most uncomfortable position, neck at a rakish angle, limbs wilted, her face angry, everything turned in on itself, and her incessant scream for help. Sensing another’s presence beside her, eyes still closed, she yelled vehemently: “I hate this! This stupid life. What the hell is the point? Just end this. My life stinks. Look at me. What am I doing here?” Her eyes were full of disgust, contempt, despondency. Such an open confession – her hatred for her life, her blatent cursing of her own existence. She cried out again, “HELP!”
“May I help you?” I said softly and timidly, not wanting to unruffle her already very ruffled feathers.
She called me a few choice names. Then she opened her eyes just enough to look up at me. Her sinister expression fell with a sudden childlike shame. “Oh. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She reached up for my hand. I took it and asked if I could sit beside her on her bed. She nodded yes. But she quickly returned to her inner cave. So, so dark.
“What are you doing here?” she asked me bitterly.
“I heard you calling for help so I came to see if I could help you.”
“Are you here alone?”
“Yes… Well, I got Jesus with me.”
“Ahhh, Jesus. I don’t believe in that.” She pushed my hand and began to yell at me. I quickly stood up from her bed, afraid of what she might do.
I didn’t blame her. Not one bit. I could understand. I sat beside her again. Soon she said, “I’m sorry.” I assured her it was fine. She continued to tell me how meaningless and worthless she felt. I listened. She told me her legs hurt from being in the same position for so long. I asked if I could adjust her bed and pillows for her. She scowled as if to say, “What difference is it gonna make?” But she didn’t say no, so I gently lowered the head of her bed and rearranged the pillows behind her sunken-over head. There. I felt like I could breathe a bit more easily just looking at her! Then I asked if I could massage her legs. She nodded yes. “Oh, that feels good.”
“I’m hungry,” she said. There was a package of doughnuts on her bedside table. I handed her one.
“I’m thirsty.” There was a small cup of water on her bedside table. I handed it to her. A bit of the water ran down her chin, onto her chest. I wiped it off with a tissue.
We sat together quietly. I told her it was a beautiful evening outside. “Would you like to see?” She said yes. I was surprised that she was open to this! I opened up her curtains. What a view! The Brooklyn brownstone rooftops were lit up by the late winter sun, slanted and brilliant. The sky was a bright, crisp blue.
“Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Yes, it is.” she said.
She was beginning to thaw out in the newly let-in warmth.
I sat down beside her again.
“What is your name?”
Hearing no answer, I looked on her wrist band. As I saw it, she voiced, “Ira.”
“Ira! I am Marian.” I waited a bit. “I’m so glad to meet you.”
“Oh, stop with that nonsense.” I laughed with understanding. No warm-fuzzy B.S. with this one! Love it. I moved to kneel beside her for better eye contact. She began to tell me about her life, that she lived in Brooklyn, was a good-looking lady with a good figure, asked to be a model, and received a good education. She went to Brooklyn College.
“What did you study, Ira?”
“Do you have a favorite poem?”
“How about Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening?”
“I don’t know it.”
I recited it for her.
“That is lovely. A beautiful poem.” She realized, “I do have a favorite song!”
“What is it?”
“Someone to Watch Over Me. Frank Sinatra.”
“Ohhh! I love that song!” I sang the refrain.
She softened with recognition, “Yes, that’s the one!”
I began singing the only verse I knew: “ ‘I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood’ – How does it go?”
Ira chymed in, speaking the words slowly enough, line by line, for me to sing them after her: “ ‘I know I could, always be good, to one who’ll watch over me. Although he may not be the man some girls think of as handsome, to my heart he carries the key. Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed, follow my lead, oh, how I need someone to watch over me.’ ”
It was such as sweet sharing. She even let herself smile. A smile so precious to me.
She explained, “It’s a nice song. But the words. The words really make it meaningful.” She began reciting the lyrics again with such earnestness of heart, and we continued the song together. This is her heart’s song, her cry. This is the help she was screaming for – someone to watch over her.
I gently took Ira’s hand and continued to sing to her, rubbing her arm. Her eyes closed peacefully. I sang her lullabies my mother sang to me. Somewhere Over the Rainbow. If I Loved You. She knew each one. “You could do this all day,” she said contentedly. “Thank you for being here. You have a gift. A gift from God. To Sing! Your voice is truly beautiful. Thank you for singing to me!”
“Oh, Ira, it is truly my joy. I could do this all day too.”
“Now, don’t make me cry!” she said. “Ya know, I always said, ‘God gives us a deck of cards. We have to play it to the fullest!’ ” I smiled and thanked her and kissed her pale hand.
“I’ll never wash it!” she said gleefully.
I asked her if she knew You’ll Never Walk Alone, from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, Carousel. “ ‘When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid’ ” –
“ ‘of the dark,’ ” she joined in…
Together, with her speaking and my singing, “ ‘At the end of the road is a golden sky and the’ ” –
My voice broke. I could not hold back the tears clutching in my throat. “Now you’re making me cry!” I said.
We went on: “ ‘. . . sweet silver song of a lark. Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone.’ ”
I could feel each word pouring directly out of my heart into hers; or rather, being graciously spilled out over both of us like the sunlight through her window, seeping so tenderly into the curtain-enclosed rooms of our hearts. Really, Ira’s cry is mine. Is ours. “Help! Somebody help me!” In our simple coming together, born from her honest, raw scream, there arose a solution – friendship. Such soothing ointment we shared in that moment. Each receiving, together, what we needed the most.
“May I come to visit you next Saturday?” I asked her.
“I would love that. Please do. You are always welcome.”
Ira took my hand and kissed it. Then she peacefully closed her eyes and dozed off into a calm rest, the sunset rays shining on her beautiful, serene face.
From darkness to sunlight, screaming to singing, loneliness to “someone to watch over me,” despair to “you’ll never walk alone.” The miracle of friendship.
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