Feeling emotionally hungover from the roller coaster ride of having a dear friend in a battle for her life, I dragged my heavy heart to our mini-van. What I desperately wanted to do what was sit at home and cry and grieve, but what I had signed up a week earlier to do what was drive a car full of third grade boys to a nearby nursing home.
After a raucous ten-minute drive, we entered into the double doors, only to be met with the strange smells and sights of the elderly. Both the children and the chaperones were visibly uncomfortable.
At first the children had a hard time looking the patients in the eyes, as it is hard for vitality and youth to gaze upon the affects of the aging process. The room was large and felt sterile, but the children bravely smiled through their discomfort.
As they dispersed themselves throughout, pairing up with various men and women more than ten times their ages, they began to introduce themselves and ask simple questions.
What is your name? Where are you from? Do you like baseball? You flew airplanes? Were you scared?
As the questions peppered the room, something simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary occurred.
The eyes of our new elderly friends seemed to light up, brightening the once dismal scene. The awkwardness of having to shout to be heard or not understanding what was said remained but was lessened by the levity in the once intimidating, now warm crowd.
My son and I visited with James, an elderly man who had no teeth and a twisted tongue that made it difficult for him to communicate clearly. He laughing told us, “Good teeth don’t run in my family.”
Maybe good teeth didn’t run in his family, but gentility and beaming joy most certainly did.
A mere hour later, as we walked down the same long hallway and out the same double doors, something had changed. The slight smell of urine still hung in the air, strange medical devices still loomed about and the unsightly affects of aging remained. Yet, for the first time in a very heavy week, my heart was splintered with slivers of hope.
Visiting with the aching and often isolated elderly and hearing slivers of their stories, my own grieving soul found unexpected medicine.
Our experience reminded me of a legend of St. Seraphim that I read years back in a book entitled Prayer That Heals Our Emotions by Eddie Ensley.
According to the Russian legend, a shocked mother who had lost her only son was desperately going door to door cradling his dead body, seeking medicine that might heal him. Upon reaching Seraphim’s cabin, he wisely discerned that she was sick with grief. He told her, “Go to the houses in this village and find one house that has not known sorrow, deep tragedy or loss, get a grain of barley from that house, and bring it to me. I will make a medicine of it and he will be healed.”
The mother did as he said, traveling door to door with the body of her son. Ensley writes the following.
“She found no house without sorrow. She heard people’s stories of great grief in their own lives. Gradually, she ceased to feel alone in her pain. She began to feel her neighbor’s pain. Her pain seemed less immense to her when it was seen as part of the pain that everyone felt, and she finally could begin to grieve.”
While she did not find the medicine she was seeking, she found the medicine her soul needed in the pain of others. Ensley concludes, “Entering into the pain of others helps us feel our own pain. We can feel it and let it flow through us and then move on to a place of hope.”
Today, I find myself inexpressibly grateful to the Great Healer, who seems to have seen fit that my dear friend would remain on with us here longer. Even more so, I am thankful that our Great Healer is the Wounded Healer who through His wounds provides the base balm from which all our healing and comfort stem. I am reminded that the same Wounded Healer calls us, the wounded, to go out and bind each other’s wounds by sharing in their pain. As we do such, He works His strange medicine into our own souls.