There is a resident named Marie that yells every obscenity in the book at me every time she sees me. She even knows my name. Whenever she sees me she starts out, “Steve, get your %^&$#@ @#% and furthermore #$%^#%^ $%^ $% #&$# % ^&$# %^&$@” and every other word cannot be repeated here due to standards of decency. I have no idea what I did to her to deserve that.
True story, she even yelled at one of the staff members, Dawn, and we found out later it was because she thought she had heard that Dawn was my wife. That information was inaccurate but poor Dawn paid the price for it anyway.
Whenever I see Marie I think of a story that will sound familiar to some of you. It was told quite often by Fr. John Gillespie, my pastor for 20 years, who I know is beloved to many of you on this list.
Once there was a very old man who used to meditate early every morning on the bank of the Ganges River in India. One morning, having finished his meditation, he opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating in the water. He reached out his hand to rescue the scorpion and was stung by it. He reached out again and was stung again. He reached out a third time and was stung yet again. A passerby yelled at him, “Fool! Why do you keep trying to rescue this scorpion whose only gratitude is to sting you?” The old man replied, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting. Mine is to save. Am I to lose myself on the banks of this sacred river?”
Yep, if you’re looking for scorpions, there’s a good bet you’ll find some at the nursing home. The aforementioned Marie is a good start.
Then there are some of the people that work there. You volunteers know the ones I’m talking about — the “bad apples” – the nurses and CNAs that make you feel like you’re a nuisance, meddling, and just generally making their job more difficult. I’ve had two Administrators at a certain nursing home in town scold me about where I locked up my bike – but they don’t even provide a bike rack there!
So the story tells us not to lose our nature to those scorpions in our lives. But how do we do that? Perhaps in some cases we can change our attitudes by looking deeper into the situation. For example, those “bad apples” I referred to earlier – I’ve gotten to know some of them better over the years. Some of the CNAs work double shifts to make ends meet in their household. Would you like to lift heavy people in and out of bed and change diapers for 16 hours straight? Neither would I, in fact I’d probably be in a pretty awful mood if I had to.
With some people, however, we may never get to know them well enough to understand their situation. To those people in our lives, I think the best we can do is try to focus on them as little as possible. I may never understand why Marie yells at me all the time, but I can choose to focus on all the good things that do happen every time I go to the nursing home.
It’s really nothing more than an exercise in positive thinking. The air around us is permeated with negative thoughts. All the talk of currencies crashing around the world, corruption in Washington — that negative talk is really dragging us down as a nation. I mean, the average U.S. Senator has an approval rating of what, 23%? Is it really possible they are all that diabolical? I think we as a nation, as a world, could really use some positive thinking.
Back to the nursing home, and the scorpions. Marie is my personal scorpion. On a macro level, we have a society that doesn’t value its elders. We have a medical system that focuses on prolonging life, instead of the emotional and spiritual needs of real people. I don’t know if there’s much I can do about those, so I’m going to try not to focus on them. However, as a volunteer coordinator, I’ve had the privilege of watching many of you volunteers in action over the years. And I see nothing but positive there. I see friendships happening, connections among people, shaking hands, listening, respecting, empathy, trust, and love. I could go on and on. Let’s all focus on that. Otherwise, we might spend our visits (and our lives) focusing on the negative, which will lead to anger, and that will consume us.
So let’s make it our New Years Resolution to think positive this year!