This I Believe

Ellen - Winchester, Virginia
Entered on November 14, 2008
Age Group: 65+
Themes: community, place
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I Believe in Daily Bread

I believe the importance of daily bread cannot be overstated. I believe the dining room is a hub in the nursing home for daily bread. Social gatherings around tables holding vases of plastic flowers break the endless monotony of institutional living. Table foursomes share opinions on caregivers and food, as well as look out for each other. Sorry to say, the space will not accommodate everyone and unlucky residents eat from trays placed by bedside televisions. I quickly add my mother’s name to the waiting list for dining room privileges.

While lunch is being served, Maria enters the dining room wearing a spotless pink uniform. Her shift began at 6:30 a.m. after rising early, packing lunches, driving her children to childcare, and dropping her mother off at work. Maria’s sunny disposition is like a breath of fresh air as she hands out bibs and moves wheelchairs into place. When she notices Hattie’s empty chair, she takes a few minutes to rest her feet.

If man’s last freedom is choice of attitude, it appears many in the room have chosen an attitude of cheerfulness. Louie, the only man at this table, may be the exception. He sports a Redskin’s cap and a frown at all times. He is unhappy with the hand fate has dealt him and makes no apologies for being cantankerous. The cook has a standing order to serve him mashed potatoes, his all time favorite food, at every lunch and supper. “Missing again!” he growls. As Maria heads to the kitchen, he manages to squeeze her leg. “You know better than that,” she good-naturedly scolds. He flashes an innocent grin.

As I feed my mother, the detested pureed peas are left untouched. She enjoys tidbits of news from grandchildren, hometown church, and old friends. “Take your time, Mom; no need to hurry.” To my surprise, she smiles and lifts the teaspoon. “This is encouraging,” I muse. “She is helping herself.” I pause. Mother carefully stirs a spoonful of applesauce into the glass of tea. My ongoing attempts to outwit dementia ultimately fail.

I imagine Catherine, the fourth person at the table, was a real beauty in her younger years. Her posture hints of old lace and fine china. Her hearing aids are missing. Hearing aids are small, fragile, and expensive, and tend to disappear in a nursing home. Catherine is unable to hear, and my mother is unable to speak, but when she reaches across the table to pat mother’s hand, their expressions are eloquent.

I believe fundamental bread of life is being served in the nursing home dining room. In the presence of laughter, respect, and dignity, through attentive ears and compassionate hearts, with warm smiles and kind hands, thread-bare lives recover a measure of flavor and meaning.

I believe that, sooner or later, each one of us will be called to reach across the table with an open hand and be either a cheerful giver or an humble receiver of daily bread. This I believe.