A Child Has Our Life in His Hands
A few scraps and fragments after a morning spent at the seniors home…
A woman sits, staring vacantly at the television in front of her. I look at the TV. It is a road report, outlining the wintry conditions that we might expect on this or that Alberta road. I ponder the abundant ironies and incongruities contained in the image of this woman sitting, alone, watching the road report. She will likely never travel a winter road again…
An old man inches his way along with his walker, pausing near the front desk. I watch as he sneaks a quick peek around before grabbing a handful of Christmas chocolates and candy canes. He drops two trying to put them in the basket of his walker. He tries his best to pick them up quickly, but it’s no use. People see. A stealth operation gone awry…
Some of the residents do their morning exercises. They move their hands in slow circles, clockwise, then counterclockwise. They make chirping motions with their hands while sitting in long rows. The leader of the exercises is bright and chipper, but most of the residents are not. They mostly look tired.
There are so many TVs here. And they’re always on. While I wait for the elevator, I watch one. It’s an infomercial about an exercise machine. Lean, hard, young bodies in tight clothes bounce vibrantly across the screen. On the couch sits a man whose back is bent, whose face is disfigured, whose head is bowed. His eyes are open but I can’t tell what he’s looking at. There’s nothing but a wall straight ahead. I wonder what those eyes have seen over the years…
A school group comes in to play games or do puzzles with a few residents. Some of them seem kind and caring, and look happy to be here. Others looked bored. Some shuffle their feet and looked at their phones.
Two ladies are working on a puzzle. They smile and laugh. One begins to sing a song.
I meet with an old saint from my church. His hearing is very poor and I have to yell a lot. It’s very tiring to have a conversation when you’re yelling. It’s also very awkward to pray together. It feels like I’m shouting at God. Which, come to think of it, might not be the most inappropriate response in the world given the things that some people must endure…
I stop to see my grandmother. She doesn’t recognize me at first because her eyesight is getting poorer. Which makes me sad. She talks excitedly about getting special glasses with a magnifier and a built-in light later in the week. She is hopeful that it would let her read again. We talk about how much we love to read. “It’s so important,” she says. “I want to learn and to understand.” I give her a hug and she gives me some chocolate.
I think about how many Advents and Christmases these dear people in this oft-forgotten place have seen. How many breathless paeans to newness, possibility, salvation, the hope of the Christ child? How many determined rehearsals of the words of the prophets about the one who would come to right all the wrongs? How many times, the familiar carols sung?
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
A seniors home is such a strange way station on the road to second birth…
I think about the Christ child, whose birth we await. Is this child enough for all the desire and longing, all the sadness and loss of countless lifetimes? Is this child up to the task of meeting the hopes and fears of all the years? Of this year?
I head back to my office and open up one of my Advent readers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words are waiting for me:
A child is placed here at the midpoint of world history—a child born of human beings, a son given by God. That is the mystery of the redemption of the world; everything past and everything future is encompassed here. The infinite mercy of the almighty God comes to us, descends to us in the form of a child, his Son. That this child is born for us, this son is given to us, that this human child and Son of God belongs to me, that I know him, have him, love him, that I am his and he is mine—on this alone my life now depends. A child has our life in his hands.
This child does, indeed, have our life in his hands. All of him for all of us.
The art above is called “According to Luke” by Rhonda Chase. It is an image created utilizing pages from her great-grandmother’s deteriorating Bible. It is taken from the 2013-14 Salt of the Earth Christian Seasons Calendar produced by University Hill Congregation in Vancouver, BC.
Christian Century, all of you, are addressing the meaning of Christmas thoughtfully, the feeling in the heart. Truly a ministry.
Along the line you have taken, B.B. McKinney’s hymn assures, “I am satisfied with Jesus,” and then asks, “Is my Master satisfied with me?”
Beth Merrill Neel has a seasonal essay, “Help me, Baby Jesus – you’re my only hope !”
We can also say with Peter, where else would we go?
Peter’s question is one that has long echoed my own. Thanks for this.
” I ponder the abundant ironies and incongruities……”
It’s a sad picture to witness many of the elderly lapse into a mental state of suspended animation, “existing” until they pass. In these situations I sometimes wonder if the mind journeys to a safe place outside of reality in an act of self preservation, hence the blank stares. I’ve always admired the movie depiction of the old Indian who knowing his time had come,would venture off into the wilderness to give up the Ghost, surrendering himself to The Great Spirit.
I wonder along similar lines, Mike. It would be a mercy, if true.
Thanks Mike for posting the clip of my favourite musicians and a song that has great meaning for me.
However, the song (Hold Me Jesus) seemed a bit jarring put alongside your last sentence about the Elder and his apparent self-imposed euthanasia. The old man reminded me of what I’ve read about the Inuit practice of Elders walking off onto the ice to die rather than consume their clan’s scant food supplies. I’ve always thought our believing Elders bravely living in the waiting rooms (extended care facilities), some in near vegetative states, were being held by Jesus as they hoped for the release of death (and maybe that was your intent with Mullin’s song). They aren’t speeding up the process by venturing off into the wilderness (via O/D on meds).
And here lies the rub for me: I’ve often admired the aged Inuit who walked off onto the ice into that last great night rather than become a burden to their clan. Perhaps I’m sliding into a dark frame of mind – very unChristmasy – but I’m speculating that as we boomers age we’ll start helping the process along. I’m predicting that this will become a more pressing pastoral issue – especially as our culture’s “right to die” picks up steam. I’m guessing this may be one of our dirty little secrets that is already.
So when the medical industry can “keep a vegetable alive” (I heard that from an emergency room nurse about thirty years ago) we’ll have to figure out what faithfully being held by Jesus in our old age looks like. Will it mean years in diapers? Will it will mean refusing medical treatment/procedures? I’m wondering how many of us will opt to walk off onto the ice to speed things up?
I do like you musing that people in dementia wonder off to a safe pace of outer-reality where maybe they experience being held by Jesus – lets hope so.