During campaign season, maintaining serenity is a good trick
by Gordon C. Stewart, “All Things Considered” guest commentary (MPR)
Aired August 20, 2012
Some days are brightened by a trip to the nursing home.
Take last Monday, for instance.
The members of the group that meets every Monday at 10 a.m. shuffle in on their walkers, or roll in, in their wheel chairs.
Ninety-seven-year-old Frances (not her real name; nor are the others to follow) walks in without assistance. Her 78-year-old son is dying of cancer. Another relative, 30 years younger than she, is next door in the memory care unit. “Good morning!” she says.
Georgana has been confined to a wheelchair all her life. But her mind is as sharp as her sense of humor. Gwen, who’ll be 90 this week, is coming to the end with hospice care. Pat, recently moved from Assisted Living to the Care Center, is in a wheelchair. All 12 of them smile and offer each other greetings: “Good morning!”
This morning I’ve watched too many campaign ads brought to my computer by Unedited Politics, a website that republishes campaign ads and political speeches without editorial comment. I’m all stirred up.
The 12 people from the nursing home have been drawn here by their desire for light. “Rejoice!” says the reading for the morning. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation ….”
I ask: How do you rejoice in a nursing home? What is the secret of being content when your body and your mind don’t do what they once did?
Listening to their reflections reminds me of how small our footprint is on the larger world. They share my distress about the news, but their years have taught them to recognize light wherever it meets them and to relish the little things of daily life: a smile, a kind word, the cardinal and the squirrels playing outside their windows, a sense of inner peace, a strange contentment. I hope to be more like them — to pay more attention to the things that are beautiful, admirable and lovely.
While they shuffle out on their walkers and roll out in their wheelchairs, Frances, Georgana, Gwen, Pat and the rest of the ad hoc community at the nursing home thank me for coming and wish me a good week. They have lightened my step. I’ll still pay attention to the news, but I’ll listen and watch with a greater lightness of being.