Recently I took my fourth-grade CCD class to a nursing home as part of a Lenten activity. My class of 10 is all boys, so trying to take them to a nursing home … well, we had our doubts.
Recently I took my fourth-grade CCD class to a nursing home as part of a Lenten activity. My class of 10 is all boys, and they are all friends, so you can just imagine that in my class, in order to get closer to God, we do a lot of … wrestling. And laughing. And throwing things. And racing around. Sometimes, it’s like herding cats, getting these boys seated and behaving. So trying to take them to a nursing home … well, we had our doubts.
I say “we,” because this year I have a co-teacher, my good friend Susan. Susan is a nurse and the mother of one of my students, so there are many great advantages to having Susan in class, one being that if anyone gets knocked out or starts bleeding, I have nursing available in-house. I realize that this is not a normal concern for CCD teachers, but they have never had my class of -- did I mention -- 10 BOYS. WHO ARE FRIENDS. Susan and I try our best, but we are not biblical scholars, and not all the material is meant to be covered in depth, so when a fourth-grader asks us, “How many levels of Heaven are there, actually?” or “What does ‘covet thy neighbor’s wife’ mean?” we tend to wear a generally blank or confused expression, and then mention snack. “Snack is coming!” we’ll say, and that diverts all questions to another area entirely. Although we may not be Bible scholars, what we can offer is the feeling that God is real and cares about them individually. And that acting decently means something, even in these days where middle-schoolers are texting naked pictures of themselves to each other. I don’t want these boys in that group in a few years, so we talk a lot about life in general and what being good might actually mean. (I have always felt that God was all right with us veering away from the CCD materials like we often do.) And they teach us things, too: new wrestling holds, detailed information on how many ice hockey goals they have scored each week, and what crazy things their pets have done. So it’s a give and take relationship.
Daniel’s House Nursing Home is around the corner from Susan’s house, so we held the class at her home. Also, we decided to teach the boys a song: “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” The boys originally wanted, in all childish innocence, to sing “Staying Alive,” because that’s what they wanted the people in the nursing home to do – stay alive. Sweet, Susan and I said, but maybe not that appropriate. So we went with the Irish song. Imagine a choir where everyone is singing in a different language, and also singing different words at different tempos. And wrestling and punching and shoving while they are singing. Well, that was our group, out on Susan’s lawn practicing before we walked over. We were only singing one stanza, but we were even having trouble with that, and then the boys wanted to know why the sheet music said “Irish Drinking Song” under “category.” Susan and I shrugged and mentioned snack.
Soon, we were at the nursing home, which I had walked by many times but had never actually entered. It is a warm, loving place, originally a huge single-family residence in town, and inside they are taking care of the needs of the sick and the elderly while evoking a feeling of energy and respect for those within it’s walls. My neighbor Ann Morris is the activities director there; I never knew she worked at the nursing home. The boys were ushered in, and we could tell that they were a little frightened at the sight of people sitting in shiny wheelchairs, or napping, head on chest, or sitting together quietly on a couch enjoying “The Sound of Music” on the television. “It’s OK,” we whispered, nudging them farther inside. “Let’s do our song for everyone.” So after Ann introduced us, we began singing. You would have thought that we were the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, from the looks we got – eyes began shining, bodies became more alert and shifted in chairs to get a better look, smiles appeared from every corner of the room. The boys gamely kept singing, bunched together as much for comfort as anything else. After the song, Ann took us all around to meet every single one of the residents who was awake, and she had something special to say about each one – this lady once sang for the Metropolitan Opera, this man was a writer; this lady had raised eight children. “These people weren’t always old,” she said to the boys, who listened carefully, normally busy hands limp at their sides. “They were someone’s baby, then someone’s toddler, then they were like you, and then they grew up! They had jobs, and had families, and now they are here; they’re real people who have had a very important life.”
Then the boys went to each bed, or wheelchair, and did as Ann advised: introduce yourself, and then ask the resident their name. Small hands began reaching out, and tremulous voices said, “I’m Patrick,” or “I’m Liam,” or “I’m Joe,” and old hands reached out, often sightlessly, as if reaching toward youth itself. Beautiful old faces rose up from pillows and comforters and beds surrounded by framed pictures of younger days, and they grasped the small hands and shared what they were able. “Tell the boys how many books you wrote,” or “Tell the boys about when you were an actress” was Ann’s encouragement, and the stories haltingly, sometimes breathlessly, came. Grey heads and heads sporting the strong vibrant colors of healthy youth bent toward each other to talk and then to carefully listen, and wrinkled hands held small strong hands for a short time before we moved on to the next patient, leaving a memory or a wish or … something, I don’t know what, behind on the faces of those already visited. I guess I’ll never know. But I do know one thing, and I never thought I would see it -- my boys, each one, had finally been tamed -- by people many times their age. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious ways.
You can connect with Deirdre at www.exhaustedrapunzel.com.