Friday, November 6, 2009


On a trip to the nursing home where I take high school girls to volunteer, I came across a man in a wheelchair. With his plaid pajama pants, a head full buzzed grey hair, Velcro New Balances, and an adorably shy, sweet smile, I stopped to chat with him.

As we talked, he planted his New Balances on the ground and rocked his wheelchair back and forth. Even though he was well into his 80s, he reminded me of a shy, young boy with a crush as he fiddled with the rim of a paper cup in his lap. He’d glance up at me as he punctuated every sentence with that charming smile of his.

Me: "So, I see you have a giant American flag and a military haircut – were you in the service?"
B: "Yes…well…a long time ago….
I was in….that one….
I’m sorry, I can’t remember."
Me: "It’s okay. Were you going to say what war you were in? What branch of service?"
B: "Um….I….
.....Oh, don’t waste your time with me."
Me: "You’re not a waste of time. I’m here to spend time with you. It’s okay if you can’t remember. Can you remember today? Was it a good day?"
B: "Yes. It was. A very good day."
Me: "What did you do today?"
B: "I, uh…went…to that place…
I really wish you wouldn’t waste your time with me."

There is no smile when he says this, only a slight, embarrassed shaking of his head. As if he can’t believe himself. As if forgetting is just so painful. So humiliating. I hate that he feels ashamed of himself.

Me: "B, you’re not a waste of time. I mean, you still have a great smile. What else do you need?"
B: "Really? You think so?"

The smile is back.

Me: "Definitely! It’s great."

Mentally grasping for something that he might remember, hoping that I don’t ask a question that will force him to acknowledge the fact that he…forgets.

Me: "So, do you like coffee?"
B: "Yes! Oh, I love coffee."

The smile grows.

Me: "Did you have coffee today?"
B: "Yes, I did."

Victory. I can tell he’s secretly pleased with himself for remembering something, anything. I ask him a few more questions about how he takes his coffee (with cream and sugar - he likes it sweet, “naturally”) and if he enjoys fall. We chat for a few more minutes. It’s time for me to leave.

Me: "Well, I have to go. It was great meeting you."
B: "You, too."

I walk away.

B: "Um…"
Me: "Yes?"
B: "Thank you for being so understanding."

I walk away with tears in my eyes and my heart fluttering.

The next week, I stop by his room.

He remembers me.

He. Remembers. Me. (And tries to convince me that he’s separated from his wife. But that's another story.)

We chat until it’s time for me to leave.

I walk away.

B: "Um…"
Me: "Yes?"
B: "If you don’t have anything to do, you could…come see me again."

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful story. I walk by a senior citizen home every day. I've run into some fun people outside. I am hoping that I can volunteer every now and then.


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