Last week, a bunch of people from our congregation spent a Saturday morning on various helping projects - some helped renovate houses, some did landscaping or stream cleanup, and about 10 of us went to a retirement home to visit the residents.
There were quite a few kids on our team; I signed us up for this one because I thought it would suit Ian. He's friendly, he's a good talker, he can sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."
Okay, seriously: I signed up because I'm on staff at this church, and I need to be living out the vision of the church and modeling wholehearted participation and MAN ALIVE DO I NOT FEEL LIKE DOING CHURCH STUFF ON A SATURDAY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. So that's the full extent of my suffering for the kingdom - spending a couple of hours visiting old folks in the day room. Yes, I am a fine, fine example. I felt like I had to sign up for something, and so I found something that I could do with the kid. Nice, eh? Why yes, I am quite saintly. I am one saintly mother.
And may I just point out, my little tiny ridiculous suffering is NOT particularly compounded by the fact that it was a nursing home, on account of my mom's long stay in one. So no credit is due me for overcoming nursing home squick.
Anyway, here is my point. The group took nosegays to some residents, and those were well-received. We found a quite corner, pulled out the markers and made some greeting cards to pass out. That was fun.
And then the group kind of split up, and we found ourselves visiting some ladies in another common room. Each was in a wheelchair, kind of wheeled into random positions, not to watch TV or look out a window or converse. One woman was parked on the linoleum, and someone from church was chatting with her, and she was clearly distressed, shouting. And I thought, okay, we'll be fine over here singing for the unresponsive patients for the rest of the hour. No way we're visiting the shouter.
But I do have some small sliver of heart, and it got the better of me. I saw the distressed woman gazing at Ian, and I couldn't conscience staying away. We can over and said hello. Ian took her hand. She frailly stroked his hair.
Ian cracked out the A material: from "Hi! I am Ian!" through "I am talking! To you! We are talking!" and even a quick verse of "Home on the Range". It's a great program, really. A surefire hit.
As the program went on, though, the woman became distressed again, and started shouting - "I'm sick!" "I want to go home. Can't you please take me home?" "This is an awful place, I would never come back here." "I'm dead already." She was weeping.
Krista and I fell into a silence. Ian looked at the woman, the looked at me.
He cocked his head and said "That lady says she is sick."
Yep, I said, that's why she's here, so doctors can take care of her.
"She wants to go home," he said. His heart was breaking, just beginning to crack.
Yes, she does. You know what that's like, huh?
He stared at her for a long time. "She is very sad."
Yes, she is. You're right, Ian. She is very sad.
Ian put his head on my shoulder.
Eventually I pulled myself together a little, and we prayed, with Ian holding her twisted finger. We stayed with her for a while. Eventually we went on and said hello to some more people. Ian was a little shyer over the next hour.
In the afternoon, his father woke his up from his nap. He looked up from the crib and said "Daddy, are you happy?"
"Yes, I am, Ian. How about you? Are you happy?"
"Yes. I am happy."
If I tell him I don't have all the answers - if I tell him that I, his mother, the person who explains things, doesn't know why some people are desperately unhappy, and there's nothing we can do to solve their problems AND YET God expects us to be with them and hold their hands for their sake and God's sake and I will never in this life know why...
...does that make his world more frightening, or less frightening?
More sad? Or less sad?