Friday evening my 88 year old Uncle and I went down the hall to visit his sister and my aunt in the Memory Care unit at the Nursing Home/Assisted Living facility in a small rural North Dakota community. It was a short trip, under a single roof. My Aunt, at 93, is most likely not suffering from severe dimentia, but nonetheless the placement is appropriate. She’s been in the unit for about a year.
My Uncle and I just went to visit. My Aunt was working on a puzzle. (photo at end.)
It was supper time, and two other ladies were at the same table, one familiar to me, the other not, perhaps a recent resident.
“Emma” was attempting to engage, but not succeeding. The second lady was easily understood but not allowing for much visiting.
We may have looked or sounded annoyed: at some point you don’t know what to do. Those knowing someone with any variation of dimentia understand.
The man assigned to evening duty came around. I’d talked with him during an earlier visit. He’s a retired teacher in the town, and as I recall, he willingly took his job more as a service than as a job. He had a relative – perhaps his Mom? – who was or had been a patient in this very facility. Maybe, it has since occurred to me, she was Emma….
For whatever reason, he entered the conversation: “Emma stood in front of me for 20 years in our Church choir”, he said. “She had a wonderful Soprano voice.” He mentioned one particular piece which required a phrase one octave higher than the usual, and it was Emma who would sing it, beautifully.
As I recall, Emma had nodded off.
Off he went to other duties, and our visit continued, helping my Aunt finish a puzzle (she’s good with puzzles) and then we left.
And all the next day, driving 300 miles back home, I kept thinking of that brief but powerful encounter in the Memory Care section of the Nursing Home.
This morning Cathy and I went to 9:30 Mass at Minneapolis’ Basilica of St. Mary as usual.
Fr. Greg Welch was celebrant and homilist, and today’s Gospel was Luke 18:9-14, the well known passage about the righteous Rich Man and the repentant Tax Collector (I knew is as the Pharissee and the Publican story).
Fr. Welch, in his own comments, chose to focus on the Pharisee, and drew us into the Pharisee’s circle, as it were, with a simple parable of his own.
He opened with a simple comment: when he was young, he grew up in a family that assumed the kids would go to college. There was no need to discuss this reality. For many other families, college is not even a dream, he said. It is not part of their reality for financial or other reasons.
Those of us in those pews are mostly pretty privileged, and Fr. Greg wondered aloud about the wisdom of a country criticizing “Obamacare” while 32 million people are without health care, and no alternative being offered; about cutting food stamps while considering military expenses to be essential; about people, including the homeless holding those cardboard signs on street corners, needing a job not being able to find one in which they can earn a living.
The open question, not directly addressed, was to each one of us: “where do YOU fit into this picture?”
It was an applause worthy homily; we in the pews were very, very quiet.
I’ll let the Memory Care attendant know about this blog post, and perhaps he will tell me what motivated him, on Friday night, to tell us about Emma, the lady whose grasp of what we take for granted is very limited.
At any rate, he sang a magnificent Soprano for us on Friday afternoon. It is a message that will stick with me.
(click to enlarge)
UPDATE Nov. 3, 2013:
Today’s Gospel was the story of “Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man” (Luke 19:1-10). Our Pastor, Father Bauer, gave an excellent homily interpreting the Bible story.
As with the previous Sundays text and interpretation, this Gospel fit into todays news, which included, this past week, the mandatory cut in “snap” funds at the federal level – I think they’re called food stamps.
There is a lot to talk about….
Also, this past week, came a review of what is likely a very forgettable book, by Bill O’Reilly, which essentially attaches the crucifixion of Jesus to taxes, and another “Christian” who labored mightily to prove that “government” is not “people”, when that is all that government ever is or has been….
It takes all manners of tortured interpretation. But the reality is, there are those of us who have, and we have an obligation those who have less.
Some day we may find ourselves in the same position of needing help.