By Brenda Black
More than usual turned out for the Sunday afternoon church service at the nursing home. Typically, our attendees are in the middle of sweet after-lunch slumber about the time we show up to sing a few songs and serve up the Word of the Lord. On this day, they came --in walkers and wheel chairs, with assistance and resistance -- to worship.
As I stood to lead the singing, it occurred to me the vast range of comprehension from one patient to another. At one table near the front sat three ladies I'd just met. One introduced herself no less than half a dozen times to my husband and myself, as if seeing us each time, for the first time --all in the span of about 10 minutes. To her left a misty-eyed darling rested her arms gracefully on the table. She did not know her name. She resorted to pat, memorized phrases to respond when she couldn't process our simple and kind questions. Next to her reclined a beautiful little woman, dressed in bright pink sweats and sporting a short-cropped, silver shock of hair that looked so soft, I wanted to stroke it. She said nothing, just stared straight ahead when I leaned in to welcome her.
We started off on an upbeat note with a song I thought they might recognize. Though we distribute hymnals, I've noticed very few of the residents open the books. Mostly, they just cradle them, sometimes fondling the pages with quivering fingers when I announce the selected number. But when the music starts, some in the room perk up. They mouth the words, and smiles cross their faces. Even the most non-responsive sometimes taps one socked foot or lifts a bent and frail hand heavenward. My heart melts. They know the words, they feel the rhythm, they experience for one blissful moment a touch of God here on earth.
My little friend met me one more time before we departed. Chances are pretty good she won't remember me the next time I see her, but she knew the melodies and the messages of those timeless songs. The precious lady in the middle may not have known her name, but she knew she was loved and that we cared. And I caught a glimmer in the eye of “pinky,” when I sang right to her. One time, she even grinned.
To my delight and off to my right, a sprite and alert resident, whom I had not met prior to the service, nearly bounced in her chair on some of the selections. She closed her eyes on others, slightly lifting her slender chin upward. Her face appeared soft and peaceful at times; joyful at others. I watched her recall from memory every word of every verse. When I left the service that day, I stopped to thank her for her sincere worship. We agreed and sealed it with a hug, that when all other memories fade, the words of a melody remain.
When I grow old and more forgetful, I pray that what's left of my mind will be filled with good music and meaningful lyrics. I'd like to think that someday, though I may not know your name or mine, I'll recognize an old song. And when I don't have much strength left in this faltering body, that some of the songs that have ministered to me all my life, will still be touching my soul when the lights are going out.