I will confess something to you that I’m ashamed of: old people make me a bit uncomfortable. I’m not talking grandparents and folks that are highly functioning and in their senior years. I’m talking about people in the twilight years of their life, living in assisted living or dependent on others to care for them. I’m not proud of this fact, but I realize it all the same. Caring for the very elderly is a struggle for me. This is a weakness of mine.
So last night when our church descended on Arden Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center for an evening of caroling and fellowship I wasn’t sure what to expect. And more than just apprehensive, I was actually nervous a bit.
The group from our church was quite large and so we started off singing in the dining room to the residents who were finishing dinner. We crowded in and as our guitarist started playing and kids shouted out the songs they wanted, the group of Arden residents curiously observed us. Several of the residents were quite happy to have the company and immediately started singing along or quietly clapping. Many more just sat there at first, eyes glazed a bit and not showing much emotion. After each song the residents mostly sat there quietly and an awkward silence filled the space. Then one resident started yelling at the attendants, “HEY!” “HEY!” It wasn’t immediately clear what he wanted but he wasn’t happy. And the yelling must be fairly common because the attendants mostly ignored him. The silence at the end of the songs, plus the yelling resident in the wheel chair, all added up to a bit of uneasiness for me. ‘Perhaps we shouldn’t be here,’ I thought at one point. One of our leaders even went over to say hello to the yelling man. “Do you enjoy the Christmas carols?” she joyfully asked.
“No,” he waved his head. He didn’t like them at all.
But we continued to sing and more and more folks from our church continued to join us till the room was bursting with people and slowly more and more residents began to warm up. Some of the older ladies were even clapping and a third of the room was singing along. Most of them seemed quite happy we were there. We then split into two groups and moved down each of the two main halls, singing and visiting with residents who were in their rooms.
As our group of parents and kids moved through the hallway singing it was a quite a sight. Kids banged drums and shook tambourines and we sang our way through the Christmas carols. Many adults can get so used to singing Christmas carols that they are devoid of much real significance. But in that crowded hallway, singing to people who had been living in the Arden Rehab Center for weeks or years, the words carried new meaning. We were singing in a place that doesn’t get much song, and the words had a presence to them beyond what was written in the page. We were singing about the joy of Christ’s birth to a people who needed a bright light on this dark night.
As we reached the room of one resident named Ron, I looked in through his open door to see if he wanted some company. We had just started in on the song “What Child Is This?” and Ron was lying in his bed, eyes closed, and he was singing along. His arms swayed back and forth like he was conducting a huge orchestra from a time in his past. He was literally consuming the music- it was feeding him. He continued to sing with a huge smile on his face. We introduced our kids and ourselves and spoke with him a bit. His smile said it all: he was so blessed by the voices of the children and the songs about Jesus’ birth.
After everyone had departed and we loaded up the car, we asked the kids what they thought. My son said: “The bathroom kind of smelled like old people.” ‘Yes, the bathroom did smell a bit,’ we said, but what else did you think? My oldest confessed she was a bit uncomfortable at first but then she said, “In the end I really liked it guys. We should do it again.” Yes we should do it again. In this time of busyness and consumption, it was neat as a church to step into the lives of others and spend a few hours blessing them. And it meant a lot for me to meet some of the residents, hear their stories, and care for them. I think I grew a bit tonight, and realize the only way to get over my stupid uneasiness is to spend more time with these wonderful people. The book of Acts tells us, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Yes it is more blessed to give. Tonight I was reminded of that. God took my awkward clumsiness and apprehension of the most aged and blessed us with an incredible night. It won’t be our last time at the Arden Center. God has more to teach me there.