Yesterday our lives as postulants got busy. After a month of a sort of “grace period, (but of course, all periods with the friars are graced…) we were let loose from the house, sent forth into the world to minister. Three days a week, Edgardo will meet with the Legion of Mary where he will be visiting the sick and bringing communion to the housebound parishioners; Ramon and Sergio will drive up to Philadelphia to work at the St. Francis Inn where they will be serving the poor directly; and Dennis and I will be going to a nursing home in Newark to visit the sick and elderly.
Unlike most nursing homes, Jeanne Jugan Residence is a warm, inviting place where almost all of its residents are happy to be there, and there is a waiting list of a few years to be admitted. Run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order of women devoted to the sick and elderly, this home offers a dignity and respect to each of its residents that I have never seen before: there are two full-time entertainment coordinators that run games and events every day, the residents are visited on a daily basis by the sisters, the food is honestly very good, and the facilities feel more like a big comfortable home than a drafty hospital. The sisters that run the home actually take a forth vow (along with poverty, chastity, and obedience) of hospitality, vowing to never let anyone feel unwelcome or lonely, caring for those especially on their deathbed. Besides serving those who can no longer serve themselves, the sisters have a whole wing of the building set aside as apartments for more active and independent people, free to come and go as they please.
All in all, pretty boring job right? Listen to old folks ramble on about the “good ol’ days” and about how “kids these days” are ruining society, right? Yesterday, I played a card game called Tri-Virsity with three sassy women that had me on my toes and laughing the whole time (who also beat me), got a chance to go to mass, ate ribs with the residents living in the apartments, played host to a number of game shows such as “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” then rounded out the day by getting my butt kicked in Wii bowling by someone three times my age (seriously, I bowled a 223 and this old lady beat me by more than 20 pins!)
Because there’s such a range in activity levels, I’m excited to run a bible study for some, but also be a pair of ears for the lonely ones who never get visitors; play competitive card games, but also push someone’s wheelchair outside so they can get fresh air; listen to some tell me about how I’m “exactly like my grandson” or “perfect for my granddaughter” but also talk without response to others so they know someone’s with them.
For Dennis and I, work looks a bit more like leisure: we play games, we sit and talk, and we enjoy a meal together. But in the end, even though it may not be very “difficult” to do what we’re doing, does it make it any less significant for the person to which we’re ministering? If we want to uphold the dignity of all human life and foster the authentic development of all human life, I think it’s equally as important to play Wii with a lonely old woman as it is to give bread to a hungry young man. Don’t you? When I look at it this way, and realize that God needs help in many different ways, it’s pretty easy to just let go, take a vow of obedience, and minister wherever it is I’m told to go… even if that place is a nursing home.