This I Believe
I started volunteering at the Incarnate Word Retirement Community in the summer after the fifth grade. My mom did it, and being a friendless fifth grader with nothing to do, I tagged along. Two o’clock was teatime and everyday we were there to serve the extended care sisters their tea and assist whatever the afternoon activity might be. In the beginning it was hard for me to relate to any of them. They were old, I was not. The sisters were all dependent on the volunteers for the most basic survival necessities while I was on the verge of blossoming into my inherent need for independence. After a few weeks of going I began to acclimate to my afternoon outings, sometimes when my mom could not make the afternoon due to teaching summer school, I would take the bus two miles down the road. All day the sisters would idle in their wheelchairs waiting for their next meal, activity, visitor and ultimately to pass on from this life to the next. Wednesday is bingo day and Sister Bridget Mary would always save me a seat, call me her “good luck charm” she did normally win at least once, but most of the Sisters playing ended up winning something, even if it’s only a sticker or something insignificant like that. I soon began to feel comfortable with my newfound friends, they always seemed so elated to have someone, anyone come see them. Their faces would light up at the sight of any visitor; they were always so gracious that when it was finally time to leave I felt guilty for not devoting more time. Whenever I would finish wheeling one of them around to the chapel, dinning room or their rooms they would always deliver the phrase, “God bless you child.” At first this made me quite uncomfortable because I never felt blessed, or deserving of such gratuitous departing words. These women had devoted their entire life to selflessly serving others and guiltily I felt that the least I could do to repay them was to cart them around in their wheelchairs.
After a little while, the Sisters that I got close to began to pass away. First was Sister Mary Eileen Birmingham who was a sharp piranha of a woman that demanded that her name be said in its entirety whenever spoken. That was the first time I had ever really had to deal with death and didn’t scare me or anything like that, just made me feel bad. I missed Sister Mary Eileen Birmingham telling me that she was going to give me a kick in the pants for the way I smiled at her, I even felt nostalgic for the time that she slapped me for never being kind enough to her sister that had passed away years before I was born. It made me miss the way the light of the sun would reflect off of her docile blue eyes, whenever she would allow someone to push her outside. I had a really hard time going back after her death, but all the rest of the nuns told me that she was in a better place, that she was no longer suffering, I don’t know if I will ever believe that, but I believe that she’s watching me wherever I go, that she will always be vigilantly ready to give anyone a kick in the pants for me.
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