A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

Something To Look Forward To

February 8th, 2008

The rooms on the 2nd floor of the care center horseshoe around the dining area and nurses station. A broken hip is the admission ticket for most of the people here. Some are recovering from heart problems or surgery. Some are going through physical therapy, counting the days till they gain enough strength to return home and begin living independently. For others, afflicted with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other sinister diseases, this is home.

Every Thursday I pick up Annie and Emma from school and we drive here to see our elderly friends. It’s our favorite part of the week, something we look forward to. The girls help me put fresh roses on the dining tables and then we go room to room, pausing to visit as we replace last week’s rose with a new one for their vase.

There are 20 patients on this end of the floor. Making the rounds on this day, we’re sad and happy. Sad that we don’t get to see Mr. Billy. Happy because after six months he finally got to go home. The first few times I stopped by his room, he seemed like a tough nut to crack. A big burly man with a flat top haircut who wasn’t much for talking. Then several weeks ago I noticed a small Marine Corps sticker on his bulletin board. “Are you a Marine, Billy?” It was like I’d discovered the magic key that opened the door of conversation. For ten minutes he told me about what it was like to join the Marines at age 17. About fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II. About being on Iwo Jima. He spoke of his two Purple Hearts and the shrapnel he still carries in his body. He held up the palm of his thick hand and I saw a scar from his thumb to his wrist. “That’s where I grabbed a bayonet that was coming at me. Almost cut my whole thumb off. That guy didn’t live long.” He said it not with braggadocio, but with the somber tone of a man who put his life on the line for freedom.

There is a suitcase on Kathleen’s bed. After being here for several months, she gets to leave tomorrow. She’s only half excited because though she’s leaving, she can’t go home. An intermediate step of an assisted-living apartment is required. In reference to dealing with the disappointment of not being able to go home she says from her chair, “I’ve got some adjustments to make in my attitude. I’ve got some growing up to do.” To hear this retired school teacher speak openly of our never ending need to grow and learn inspires me.

We go to the General’s room and find it empty. The light is on. Perhaps he’s down in the therapy room. Annie and Emma are concerned. They love the General. The first time we saw the name on his door, we thought “General” was a nickname. Then I saw the 8×10 photograph of General with Edwin Meese from President Reagan’s administration and realized the General is a real General. Air Force, two stars. 91 years young and a wealth of life experience. Last week I brought him a copy of his career biography that I printed from the Internet. He hadn’t seen it before. I watched him look it over and tried to imagine what it would be like to read the story of your life on two pages. Emma leaves a chocolate bar on his bed and returns several times to see if he’s back.

Wanda thinks she’ll be going home in a couple weeks. She’s trying to get strength back after a stroke. Word puzzle exercise sheets and color by number projects are on her table, part of her therapy to regain fine motor control in her right hand. She told me how good God has been to her, even in the details of her stroke. “Just a few days before I was thinking about how I don’t know how to use the speed dial on my cell phone. So I figured out how to put my son’s number in there. When I got dizzy and collapsed all I had strength to do was push that one button. Thankfully, he was only five minutes down the road.”

When I saw a new name on the door a couple weeks ago I figured Herbie would be a guy. But Herbie is an elegant professional woman, patiently enduring treatment so she can go home and get back to her real estate business. God willing I make it to 83, I hope I’m still hard at work like Herbie.

Phyllis paces back and forth down the hall with her walker. I feel for her. How frustrating when you can’t make the connection between your brain and your speech. She tries and I patiently listen. Inevitably she sadly sighs and shakes her head, wanting desperately to form the words. Then Annie and Emma come through the door and her face lights up like a billboard in Times Square. Just their presence seems to comfort her. She smiles and breathes easier and I stand there, dumb and humbled by the frailty of our humanity and the blessing of children.

From her bed, Gladys says,”I just love to see those little girls. And those roses are so pretty! You know that big pink one at my table in the dining room is still beautiful after a whole week.” Gladys loves roses. She has a big oil painting on the wall, a still life of roses in a vase. She leans forward a bit and extends her arthritic hand. “You know, I take care of that one out there. I put ice cubes in there every meal so they melt and keep the water full. And I think that’s why it’s doing better than all the rest.”

The hope of returning home. The desire to return to work. Striving to regain physical and mental abilities. We all need something to look forward to. A purpose that makes us feel significant. Today my friends at the care center, each in their own way, reminded me that there is no such thing as insignificant purpose.  

This week as I work and pray over my life struggles, wondering and worrying how it’s all going to turn out, Gladys is faithfully feeding ice cubes to the pink rose at her table, doing her best to keep it beautiful until next Thursday.

I can’t think of anything I’m doing this week more important than that.

– Todd Thompson