Friday, December 4, 2015

20 Minutes and $1,000

I had the privilege of talking with someone new today.  A ninety-ish year old man.   He's a new resident at the nursing home I visit.  He was sitting in his wheelchair, in one of the common areas near the wall.  A TV was nearby, but he didn't seem to be paying any attention to it, so I approached him and introduced myself.  He said he didn't catch my name or why I was there, but he was happy to visit with a "young girl" just the same, so I sat down. 

We probably visited for twenty minutes and I'm still reeling and in awe of the little I know:

5th grade was the last grade he completed, because his father died when he was 9.  He had to start working to "make shoes or skirts" or whatever else the other children needed until he was lucky enough to get hired by the neighbors to build fence, which was worth room and board and $4 a month. 

At 21 years of age, he moved out and tried to make it for himself, but the draft caught up with him and he served in the war.  He chose the Navy because his dad was in the Navy in WWI.  He said he didn't get along too well, because he didn't understand the need for all of the discipline.  All of his life, he had done what he was told when he was told - even if it was midnight and he had to chop wood for the fire, because a sibling was sick and they needed heat. 

He regrets not having more education, because it helps the "brain see things in a more positive way".  As it was, he insisted his children get a college education, or a high school education at the very least.  He is wiser than he lets on and put his money where his mouth was, too. 

The roof was leaking badly, so he got an estimate to have it repaired.  $1,000.  He didn't have that, so he told the guy when he got the money together, he would let him know.  The man said he could wait.  I'm not sure how long it took, but it was at least one very wet winter later that he finally got the money together. 

Around this same time, one of his daughters came home.  She needed $300 to finish out the school semester.  He gave it to her.  A few weeks later, she returned.  She needed $780 to finish her schooling, at which time she could start working as a teacher.  Recognizing the opportunity he wished he had, he gave it to her.     

After all, he was used to doing everything himself.  He could nail those shingles on. 

His daughter was a teacher for 31 years, so his investment was well spent.  He marvels at the thought of going to school for 15 years.  In spite of a promise to pay it back and having not yet "seen a penny of it", he smiles at recounting the story... 

As for religion, he wishes he had that, too.  "It helps a person think about things differently."  To this, I asked, "Do you believe in God?"  "Oh, yes." he replied.  "He made the world and all that is in it.  I thank him for the experiences I've had in my life."  But, he wishes he knew what other people seem to know, because of the comfort they seem to glean from it.  I tried to assure him that he knew enough, but he wasn't buying it. 

He said he's been going downhill for three years.  If you were going downhill fast, that would be one thing, but it's not fast.  His legs and hands have quit working.  He can hold a spoon, but the food falls out just as he gets it to his mouth.  He can't get in or out of bed by himself, nor even put his leg back on the bed if it falls off.  While other people might take their own lives at this point, that didn't seem right to him.  Even if he was ready to go.   

He said I could share his story, but didn't know why anyone would care, or why I would call it a "story" when it is all true.  According to him, he's "just another bum on the way out".

I told him I didn't see it that way at all. 

In twenty minutes, I could see his perseverance, hope, love, self-sacrifice, and humility.  In this country, stories of life with a 5th grade education, chopping wood at midnight, saving money for a roof repair and then giving it all away are powerful, and dying a slow death.  They must be shared rather than lost.  Our generation will have stories, too, but they will not be the same. 

I can only hope we are able to inspire those behind us, as much as those who have gone before us inspire me. 

Dear God of the Young and Old, Educated and Uneducated, Able-bodied and Confined,

Thank you for the time spent with this child of yours today.  Thank you for the life experiences he thanks you for.  Thank you for the opportunity to profit from another.  Please grant us the grace to embody virtues, which seem so natural to those who have earned them.  Please bless the man these stories belong to, and all who are like him in the "evening" of life.  Grant them patience, perseverance, and an increase of faith, hope, and love.  Grant us the grace to imitate them.  Amen.

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