I visited a friend at a nursing home today, and cried all the way home. It wasn't that my friend was suffering so badly—she is in pain and discomfort but has a beautiful spirit about it all—it was because of the other people I saw in there, the people with nothing but their own souls.
Their minds are gone.
Their bodies are deteriorating.
They have lost the things that we think make us human: beauty, talent, promise, wit, creativity, future.
And what remains? Their heart and soul, quietly beating while the rest of us bustle around and try to care for them, wondering what on earth we'll do with them until they finally give up and die. And the truly frightening thing? Many of us—perhaps most of us—will be there too, one day. I might be one of those women in a sanitized hallway, crouched in my wheelchair, gray hair thin and wispy, draped in smelly old clothes, eyes glazed, drooping lips and toothless gums smacking together in horrible incoherence.
I've learned to love old people, even the decrepit ones. My dear friend Mr. Byron and his wonderful wife, Esther, taught me that even those who are strange-looking, unintelligible, and seemingly worthless have so much to offer. They are brimming with life, the life that goes beyond externals, the same life that burns in the heart of a helpless baby who can't even crawl. They don't want our pity, they need our love.
How I wish that more people would be willing to see that life, to recognize it as a piece of the breath of God, and embrace it. Too often we shrink away from the different, the "other," the confusing or frightening. It's about time that we face the facts and decide to treat the young, middle-aged, and elderly as what they truly are: the beloved children of God Almighty. Why do we keep old, sick people in sanitized halls? Why do we pay outrageous sums for round-the-clock caretakers? Why do we reject sacrifice in the name of convenience? Why do we relegate them to a part of the world where they can do no harm, and just let their souls crumble away to dust along with the rest of them? It's about time I get over my inhibitions and look at old people through the Lord's eyes. It's about time that I start praying in earnest for their hope, their joy, and their salvation.