by Karen Eden
One of my contributions to community service is that I volunteer as a hospital chaplain every week. I see about a hundred people from all walks of life during this time, and they all have something in common: Either their bodies have reached a state of disrepair or they’ve come to the point where their bodies are failing them. I find the job very rewarding. I am often the last person to hold a hand before someone takes either their next step in life or their final step in life.
But there was one particular visitation that left me pondering for days. A 91-year-old woman was hospitalized for congestive heart failure. She was old, and her heart was giving out. Yet there was something about her that struck me differently than did the other patients.
“I gotta tell you,” I said. “You have a difference presence about you — were you famous or something?”
She paused and looked back at me. “Well, yes, but that was a long time ago.”
She then proceeded to tell me about her life as a “supermodel” back in the 1930s. I didn’t have to say much else to make her feel better. The fact that I had opened a file from her past that made her feel special all over again changed her entire disposition.
She told me about the beginnings of a glamorous era, and how she and the other models would contribute to movies back then, even making some of the costumes so they could get walk-on parts. It was fascinating to sit and listen to her reminisce. The stories took us a long way from her hospital bed, where she was hooked up to wires and beeping machines 24 hours a day. Even if for just a few minutes, she was that 20-year-old supermodel again.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked as I got up to leave.
“I’m afraid my daughter is going to put me in a nursing home now, and I don’t want to go,” she said.
Her daughter, she told me, was in her 70s herself. The daughter had told her that she could no longer care for her with her heart condition.
I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I had to stop for a minute and think of what I could say that would ease her 91-year-old mind.
“Listen,” I said after a moment. “I’m sure that after 91 years, you’ve hit more than a couple of bumps in your life.”
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “My husband died when I was 35, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it.”
“But you did make it,” I said. “And you’ll make it through this, too, because there is something very special about you and that will never change.”
Her eyes teared up as I said it. She dropped her head and responded simply, “Thank you.”
I left her room and walked down the hall to my next visit, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my new friend, the 91-year-old supermodel. I couldn’t help but wonder if someone will come into my room when I’m that old and notice that there’s something special about me. It won’t be my looks at 91 years of age, and it certainly won’t be my high kick. But sometimes, as I have discovered, your presence is enough.
It’s your spirit that keeps you going when times are tough, and that forges a bold presence even in a dying body. It’s the chances you take when no one else has the courage to take them. It’s the way you carry yourself and look a total stranger in the eye.
My friends, 2020 will be the year that I test for seventh-degree black belt. That’s 30 years of trying to live and teach these very principles. I also happen to be in physical therapy now for a worn-out back that pains me daily. You don’t know that because I never complain. But why should I? One day I, too, will be in a bed, and perhaps someone will walk in and tell me that there’s just something special about me. I’ll tell them to have a seat. I’ve got a lot to say.
To contact Karen Eden, send an email to [email protected] or visit the Facebook group “The Eden Assignment.”
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