I walk the hallways of the rehab and care facility where my mother is recovering from a fall – a broken rib, gash in the head, skin tear on the arm, and ongoing healing from a minor operation – and I look and listen.
The hallways are filled with nurses and caregivers, pushing their portable healing stations, dispensing medications and changing bandages, filling out charts and greeting patients. Sliding past them are janitorial workers, therapists, doctors and administrative staff, all working to make this 200-bed rehab/nursing home facility run smoothly and efficiently.
And then I turn and look, from left to right, into each open door along the hallway, and face the reality of longevity. For the most part, it’s not pretty. Part of me does not want to look. But like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol I am forced to confront my life and my past, and I ponder the realities of suffering and dying and life’s ultimate meaning. And I grieve.
But I also choose to learn, remembering the wise writer in Proverbs 24:32.
I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw.
My eyes meet the gaze of a woman in her 90’s, lying on her side, a red-white-and-blue stocking cap on her head to celebrate the 4th of July. We smile at each other. Her eyes twinkle. Her body is broken, frail and withering but something in me whispers, “Don’t judge too quickly, Bill…there’s a lot of life in that smile.” Yes, and our smiles are gifts to one another, a momentary treasure we share.
I look across the hall and see a man who stares at me from his crumpled bed sheets, lying awkwardly, clearly with multiple maladies. His body is present…but his mind is not. This time I hear an unwanted voice, one that haunts me for a moment…”This is where your life is headed, Bill…Someday one of these rooms will be yours.”
So I do the math. I am 56, my mother is 85, and many here are in their late 80’s and 90’s. Maybe 30 years…maybe much less. If you are over 40, look back at the last 30 years. How quickly did they pass?
Ok, so this is not winning “Positive Post of the Day!” But let’s be real — every day is NOT a Friday.
Now a new voice is speaking. It is His voice. “Yes, Bill. Life is short and fragile and hard. So what choices are you making today?” I see a man looking at me two rooms down the hall. As I approach I smile, and say hello. “How are you today?” I ask. “Dumb question,” I think to myself. He is in a rehab center, moron!
With a slight smile he surprises me and says, “Pretty good,” shifting from his slouched position to an energized upright posture. I ask how long he will be here in rehab. He does not know, but likes it here much better than where he lives. Hah! It is all a matter of perspective. This is a prison for my mother for 2 weeks, but an oasis for this guy!
Suddenly, I am aware my perspective is changing. Partly because of this man. Mostly because God has been teaching me all along this hallway journey. This place has served as a metaphor for life, filled with all the sadness and pain it brings, along with joy-filled surprises and gentle graces along the way. Soon I will leave, passing through a doorway into the blaring sunlight, taking in the fresh air carried along by a warm summer breeze.
Soon many here will also depart to a new reality. But I am wrong to picture them simply as people with one foot in the grave when, in reality, they stand at a threshold. Beyond lies eternity…and for some it is filled with light and joy and freedom from all that holds them captive in this bed. For others, a sadder reality awaits. Are they ready?
More importantly, am I ready? Is my life what I hope it can be, what God desires it to be?
I sit here today fully aware of my past and I regret the foolish choices, bad decisions, mismanaged relationships and other disasters that lie in my wake. And I am tempted toward depression, anxiety and grief. But then, as if on cue, in perfect timing, His voice whispers once again. Actually, this time it shouts, “Forgiven! Loved! Redeemed! Gifted! Treasured! Loved! (Did I say Loved??!!)” And I am free. Inside I smile.
I have today. . A day to serve and love the least of these, praying some prayers, sharing some smiles. And I take joy in this moment, and in this place that so many people want to avoid. And I watch my mother, who for two weeks has been loving people here and sharing the good news of Jesus with nurses and just about everyone who enters her room whether they are ready to hear it or not! (This is one of the cool things about being 85!)
And I smile.
Today may not be a Friday. But is it a good day. Not because life is good; but because God is good. And if you and I are willing to listen, today He will teach us…right where we are. And He may just show up in the smile of an elderly, bed-ridden woman wearing a red-white-and-blue stocking cap.
And that will be your gift today.