I Believe in Leaving the Room

Lori - Trumbull, Connecticut
Entered on May 5, 2009
Age Group: 65+

I believe in leaving the room.

My ninety-four year old aunt’s funeral had been the day before. I was still thinking of how my family has its share and more of alcoholics, drug addicts, and agoraphobics… and, fortunately, a cousin who used to be my best friend.

Cousin Joni and I hadn’t seen each other in years. At the funeral, she told me about a daughter who didn’t speak to her mother, a mother who doesn’t speak to her son, a grand daughter who didn’t speak to her grandmother. None of them spoke to her.

Today, as part of a team of Episcopal lay ministers, it was my turn to hold a service at a nursing home similar to the one where my aunt died. As on previous visits, some residents were alert and intelligent. Some had difficulty just staying awake. One was a screamer who needed constant comfort from an attendant. All wore footwear with Velcro fastenings. Even those in the best condition have trouble tying shoelaces.

My co-lay minister Martha, whose gift is to pray as naturally as if God were a next-door neighbor always willing to loan her a cup of sugar, asked the residents if they had any special prayer requests. They responded with prayers for family, for a relative to visit, for long-dead parents, for a day with sunshine, for an easing of pain… the same litany they gave last month, and the month before—about as interesting to listen to as rain.

Then one resident (who carried decks of cards in his wheelchair basket because he was always up for a game), said, in a sonorous voice, “Pray for those who can’t leave their rooms.”

The residents nodded.

But I nearly stopped breathing.

Martha, barely skipping a beat, continued with the service while I tried to assimilate what had just happened.

Pray for those who can’t leave their rooms?

No matter that none of these people were related to one another, so they weren’t family? Or that some of the bedridden could neither speak nor hear, so they weren’t friends? How could those who had almost nothing pray for those who had even less?

Pray for those who can’t leave their rooms.

Overwhelmed by their grace, I had to sit down.

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This afternoon, I’m sitting down again, in my own room. Could “those who can’t leave their rooms” also be applied to addicts, the depressed, those who carry grudges…to my own family? Were my relatives trapped in walls of their own building, as unable to help themselves as long-term residents in a nursing home are unable to get out of their beds? And wasn’t I, almost a recluse, hemmed in by my own walls?

Pray for those who can’t leave their rooms.

If every room has a door, can’t every door be opened, given the proper key?

When we were kids, my cousin and I used to listen to a radio horror program called Inner Sanctum. It always began with an opening door… creaking. How frightened we were of the unknown on the other side! How delighted we were to be frightened together!

It’s a long way to my cousin’s house, and neither of us is drives much.

Still, we both have computers. And I have her email address.

I’m frightened again, yet I can… I will leave this room.