I am moved by small acts of kindness I observe in senior facilities, especially the little things residents do for one another. Many happen over lunch. Diners who can, read the daily menu to tablemates with failing eyesight. Those with nimble fingers fasten bibs around the necks of others with arthritic hands. They encourage one another to eat: Just try it.
Ninety-two-year-old Lila shuffles along in orthopedic shoes, steering her walker through the dining room, pausing to dispense her particular brand of kindness wherever she feels it’s needed: an assurance of love to bolster sagging spirits of one resident, a chair pushed closer to the table for the convenience of another. She socializes, she cajoles. Her every comment and action seems to say, Look at us, we’re alive and kicking, we’re safe, we’re warm, we have music, and they’re serving us a good meal. Come on, people! Look how lucky we are! The glass is always three-quarters full for Lila.
In the hallway, I came upon another sweet act of kindness between two elderly women. The first, seated in a wheelchair, moved a magnifying glass across the page of a hardbound book propped open in her lap, s-l-o-w-l-y reading aloud to her companion, who rested nearby on a floral sofa. I nearly wept.
But I’ve also seen plenty of scuffles among residents. Normally mild-mannered Arnie lashed out at a woman who stopped by the piano one afternoon to show me the braided gold necklace a friend had made for her. I took a few moments to admire it and was just ready to turn my attention back to the music when Arnie yelled, “Let the lady play the piano!” Well, all right then.
Staff at senior facilities rarely intervene when things get testy between residents. For example, when a man having lunch with a group seated near the piano burped, a woman at the next table made a show of her disgust and yelled, “STOP IT!” He responded along the lines of, “Mind your own business, you old biddy” (although his words were not quite that nice). Staff clearly overheard this exchange, but did nothing. Yet a few minutes later, when two residents in wheelchairs held hands and started swaying in time to the music I was playing, an aide immediately separated them with a curt “Okay, that’s enough.” Maybe there was some backstory I don’t know, but on the surface, the aide’s concern seemed misplaced.
I’ve been the recipient of many acts of kindness, too, in my work as a volunteer pianist. Recently, Glenn rolled across the room and waited until I was between songs to deliver his heartfelt compliment: “I want to tell you something: You’re a sweetie.”
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.