On the way in, we walked down a hallway where we could just see in to a few of the rooms where some residents lived who couldn’t leave their rooms. I’d brought a youth group to a nursing home to sing carols to the people there, and these patients weren’t able even to make the trip to the common room where we would be singing. A couple of boys behind me ribbed each other and snickered as we passed these ancient, withered old bodies, with their startled-looking, or else vacant, eyes and open mouths.
I couldn’t say for sure which boys it was (though I could have guessed), but I was incensed. I think I gave the whole lot a quick lecture afterward.
They Are Us
What I wanted them to remember (and what maybe all such crude mocking tries hard to forget) is that those old bodies are us. That is you, youngster, in sixty, seventy, eighty years, and there is no way around it, except an early death.
Some part of us wants desperately to believe that these people are not like us, at all, that they are some different class of creature altogether. We could never be like them. But they are all us.
You were the crying infant. You were the troublesome toddler. The elderly man so slowly and laboriously shuffling down the path at one time walked as easily and confidently as you. Because he was you. When you see him, you are looking into your future. You will be him, if you live long enough.
The same is true for so many of those who are laughed at, scorned, or sneered at: the homeless, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, the overweight, the traumatized, the scarred. Even the overwhelmed parents with bothersome toddlers or crying babies in the back of the church, the confused man in the checkout line trying to count his coins, the lonely neighbor who tries to trap you into long conversations, the surly, angry young man who thinks everyone else is stupid.
You could find yourself homeless, or mentally ill, or severely traumatized. You will find yourself old and weak, maybe even confined to your bed in the nursing home. It’s not morbid to think about that. It’s morbid to so strenuously avoid thinking about it, as our culture does.
They’re All Us
Maybe I’ll take care of myself and get lucky and maintain my strength and good health into old age, and then die in my sleep. I mean, it’s definitely my preference. But I wouldn’t bet too much on that. Maybe (please God) nothing calamitous will happen to take away my income. Maybe I’ll stay as mentally sharp as I am now, and not need help with simple daily tasks. Maybe.
But those people, they’re all us.
I love that when the creator of all things came to earth, he determined to enter into our suffering, in solidarity with his creatures, because he really was one of us.