Monday, October 13, 2008


Today was a very good day.

Mondays I spend the morning at a hospice run by some very nice young nuns (I think it's their novitiate, actually). I've been struggling with it a bit. I wanted to volunteer to Bring Love and Hope to the Dying!!! To Share my Compassion and Empathy with the Suffering!!! You know, those lofty ideals. But what I am asked to do is to sweep and mop and make beds and hang laundry.

Well, once I had been there a couple of times, it dawned on me that these ladies are subjected to different random volunteers every day of the week, and half of us probably want to Love Them As We Love Ourselves. What, they're supposed to bare their hearts and cry on our shoulders just because we want to offer our shoulders to someone, any random suffering soul, to cry on? Uhhhh... maybe not. There IS time and opportunity, for a few minutes here and there, to sit and chat with one or another of the residents, but -- well, you know, they are grown, dignified women whose dignity is seriously under siege. Some space, please! Yes, it has occurred to me that perhaps after they have gotten used to me, seen me show up regularly to sweep and mop and smile and remember their names, not pushing myself on them, eventually I might become someone to whom they feel comfortable turning when they get down about their situation. Meanwhile, I mop.

And today I got 3 spontaneous hugs! This is out of about 11 or 12 women. 3 hugs! Wow! Even crusty J was congenial, and even A was polite! The first time I met A, she gave me the evil eye and told me to Go Away. Today she was perfectly respectful :-D

I also got told explicitly by a couple of them that they are very happy to be living there. Oh, the first few times I visited, it just seemed awful! They are told what to do and when to do it, what they are allowed to eat, when they have to get up out of bed in the mornings, there is even a dress code (no shorts or tank tops, same applies to the volunteers). You know, I'm not really good at obedience. I'm open to poverty, and chastity's not bothering me these days, but Obedience ... shudder. That's the big scary one. (I think I'm called to be a hermit, but I will not be surprised if God makes me face up to obedience of these days anyway! I hope not). But last week I realized that the residents are just like nuns themselves, living poverty, chastity, and obedience, and a life in community. In a religious house, in a religious context - e.g. they pray the rosary together every morning between breakfast and lunch. And although they are sick and all alone in the world, and maybe their options are limited, they do have the choice to stay or leave, none of them have been involuntary committed by family or anything like that. One of them did leave, over the weekend, and that's how it came up that G told me "they'd have to pry my fingers off the door jamb to get me to leave." Huh. I do live and learn.

Another thing went well today. One of the things that has bothered me about the place is that these perky young novices seem, in my middle-aged opinion, sometimes to fail to respect the dignity of the old, sick and disabled bodies. More than once I have walked past a door -- or even been told to go in and start sweeping a room -- where one of the ladies is having her diaper changed or is otherwise indecently exposed. I think perhaps some young women don't see very old women's bodies anymore as women's bodies -- but from the inside, well I betcha that old woman still feels the same shame at being caught with her skirts up. Last Monday I said something to one of the young sisters about it, and this morning she asked me and another volunteer (a teenage girl) to please leave the room while she washed one of the residents. I was so happy and proud! Oh, I hope she took it to heart, and does the same Tuesday - Sunday when I'm not there.

I didn't want to go this morning. But I do want to go next Monday! A very blessed day.

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