One of the things were were planning to do yesterday, following our second Armenian Christmas dinner, was visit Aunt Roxie. She is in a nursing home about an hour from here and we wrapped a bunch of leftover food for her. Of course, big gatherings like this aren't wrapped up as quickly as the leftovers (nor would I want them to!) and by the time we could actually leave the house, it was too late. Everyone was tired, still had to drive home, and... it just wasn't going to happen.
John had today off, so we decided to take the leftovers to Aunt Roxie and visit her. She's a dear, sweet lady whom I have met twice before: once at my wedding and later when we went to visit her with baby Joshua, only a year old at the time. She lived in an assisted living home at the time, but has since injured herself and been transfered to a nursing home indefinitely.
Honestly, this was my first time in a nursing home. Before that, all my elderly relatives were in assisted living homes or hospitals or in their own home. This was a whole new experience; one that you hear about and don't fully understand until you get there. The first thing that struck me was the smell. It turned my stomach. And then my eyes took over. The hallways were lined with people in wheelchairs. Some of them were living bodies whose souls appeared to have died long ago. Others just sat and stared into oblivion because they were doing the same thing this afternoon that they did every day all week long, and for weeks before that, too. And then there were the people who looked up and saw Joshua. They reached out their hands, beckoning for him to come. They waved. One man winked. The sight of a fresh young face seemed to cheer some, and for others it seemed to cause a lonely ache. There's plenty of germs in a place like that, and I found out a virus has gone though recently, so I kept Joshua close to me. It kind of hurt to do so. A little boy, toddling along in his fluffy winter coat, carrying a toy train in his hand and flashing shy smiles as he walked by seemed to them a ray of sunshine and I felt like the cloud, keeping him pulled close to my side. I smiled too, and some smiled back, but really there was nothing better than Joshua.
Aunt Roxie- I didn't even recognize her. She was in a wheel chair with her eyes half shut, looking so dull and sleepy. It wasn't until we were close and she looked up that I saw her bright face. She didn't recognize us at first and thought we were asking for money. I don't think she ever recognized us, actually, but she did eventually realize that we were 'friends' just coming by to say hi. She talked to Joshua, her face lighting up every time he looked at her. He showed her his train and told her we didn't bring flowers. We couldn't find a florist shop and Joshua was disappointed because he wanted to give them to her. We gave her the food and though she loves the taste of her heritage, I don't think she quite understood that it was for her. John gave the food to the nurse at the desk. Who knows if she'll ever get it.
It all got me to thinking about how precious life is. I walked out of that place with tears in my eyes. They were once children, running through the grass barefoot and carefree. Then young parents with babies, working, cooking, cleaning, having fun. People with a past and a story, and who worked hard for what they had. People that we could respect, admire and learn from. And it all ended in a nursing home. Where the hallways smell of urine and echo with the sounds of pain, while those in less pain sit, just staring at the floor, waiting for a nurse to come by and take them to bed, so that in the morning it can start all over again.
What we work for and what we put our time and efforts into, they really matter. If we work for riches and fame and we achieve the greatest success, it still ends, one way or another. Everything ends. The only things that last are the things we take to Heaven.
If I am to be perfectly honest, I don't want to get old. Not like that. I want to live in my own home, and when I can no longer do that, I don't want to be around. I'd much rather go hang out in Heaven. Forever. But if I do end up in some nursing home where my family visits as much as they can, but not nearly enough to kill the long hours, and there's nothing I can do but sit and stare and stare and sit, I hope I can think back (if I CAN think at the point in my life) and know that I invested my life in the best way I knew how, to last into an eternity with Christ. Nothing else will matter.
I know there are other people who can express these thoughts much more eloquently than I just did. I'm not even sure that I've done a good job, here, but do know that today changed my life. It reaffirmed what I already know and often forget: life is PRECIOUS. It is BEAUTIFUL. It is full of MEANING and PURPOSE if we choose to find it. We should LOVE and LAUGH as often and as much as we can. We should SERVE God. We should take CARE of our bodies. And maybe we should even spend a little bit of time lending some sunshine to the lives of those who will be spending the last weeks and months of their lives staring at the bleak tile floors of a nursing home. Sharing with them the love of JESUS so that when they die, they can LIVE again. Forever.