they get to where I work they’ve already been through the system and this is pretty much the end of the line. Wards of the state, their illness, injury, or tragedy has brought them to the nursing home, the last stop in the medical/industrial complex.
Here they will have food, shelter, and medical care until the end. The least we can do, I suppose, for people who were once lovers, friends, workers, leaders, everything that any human being is, and now are laid low by the nature of things. In this place, stripped of most every possession except a room, or half of one, they will pass their days and rage, as the poet says, against the dying of the light.
No one wants to be here, of course, and everyone who is has a trail of loss that led, like bread crumbs on the ground, to this place. Provided by a long ago charity as a way to help the poorest find some dignity in their ending days this place has become the place of choice for world too busy to share the lives of those who have succumbed, as we must all, to the sometimes debilitating end of life. We’ve grown too old for our own good and we’ve added years for the sake of themselves and so we’ve come to this place, a charity for a culture so caught up in its own busy life that it hardly recognizes itself let alone its frail grandparents.
There is a certain sadness here. Those who’ve chosen to serve in these places know that we can never do all that needs to be done and meet every need. There are simply too many of them and too few of us. People who’ve already fallen through the cracks will fall again despite our best intentions. Everyone we throw our own life’s energy into will die no matter what we do. And we will watch it all from the time we clock in until the time we, often exhausted, clock out.
There is also, though, goodness and love here. It’s an imperfect system in an imperfect world but the people who care and have made this system their cause will also fill this place with a kind of love and goodness, both given and received, that only those within can completely understand. It comes mostly in fits and starts, moments in the continuum where a person who has traveled along the medical assembly line finds connection, rest, something to laugh about, or just a dry bottom to make them feel more comfortable. We’re all tired, the people who help and those who need help, but those moments are precious because they’re more real than any wealth and more human than can be possibly imagined.
Jesus is here, too. He just looks like an old man trying to move down the hall in a wheelchair after a stroke. One leg pulls, one arm tries to keep the wheels straight, and Simon of Cyrene is a young woman from Africa who works as a nursing assistant and helps him get where he needs to go. In its own way it’s a place close to God, close for the people who are ending their lives within it’s walls and close for those who serve God in the frailty and even the chaos of those who call this place, for lack of a better word, home.
In the end, it would be a better world if the old could stay with their loved ones for the entire journey and our culture would see that as a value and shape itself around this reality rather than keep the busy busier and discard those who no longer have the strength to make money. Until that time we have these places and the people who try to make the best of a bad situation. While you sleep we’ll keep the light, in all its forms, on and every time we clock on will be a silent witness to what makes us human in the best sense of the word.