“The truth is you can be orphaned again and again and again. The truth is, you will be. And the secret is, this will hurt less and less each time until you can’t feel a thing. Trust me on this.” – Chuck Palahnuik.
I read once that the journey of the spiritual life is learning over and over that we are not ever left orphaned, either by our chosen Gods or by our own capacity to be fulfilled. I felt this so strongly today as I brought cake and a story book to the Danforth Adult Care facility, and read several stories to the residents.
Our connection with one another is deepening because of their hurried evacuation from the only home most of them know. My visits mean something to them that I did not see or feel before.
Today, the residents for the first time asked me about my life, where I was from, what I had done. In my two years of working with the Mansion residents, this was the first time anyone of them had ever asked me a personal question about myself.
They were mesmerized by my police reporter stories, stunned to learn I had met Martin Luther King when I was in high school, bussed to Washington to see JFK, covered the race riots when I was a reporter, and wrote about murderers and robbers when I was a police reporter. For a long time, I just told them stories about me, and they wanted to know them.
I kept thinking, we are orphans together, we all know what it means to be orphaned. In a way, I was self-orphaned, I left my family behind in order to save myself. The life of the orphans always struck close to home with me. Perhaps this is why I feel such a strong connection with the Mansion residents.
I have felt orphaned many times in my life, until I met Maria, and identified with that experience. To live in an elderly care facility is also to be orphaned. There is no going back, no family to return to.
I know many of the residents feel that way as well at times, and much more so in the past couple of weeks. So there was a powerful connection between us tonight. I believe it is true that a spiritual life is the very opposite of being orphaned, one way or another.
We find our own families.
The residents were grateful for my coming in the past days and now, weeks. They thanked me again and again, for the cake, which delighted them, for coming, for the flowers, puzzles, for Red. They peppered me with questions about when I thought they might be returning, and if their return would really happen. They are so anxious to get back to the Mansion.
The weather was horrendous, snow and wind and ice and heavy rains, flooding and high winds, our pastures and others were flooded with water, snow melting from the hills. One minute it was 50 degrees, the next it was below freezing and all this rain was turning to ice and snow.
Helen cautioned me to get home and be warm and dry.
Tonight, Sylvie came me a huge fistful of letters to mail for her, she has been busy writing her many correspondents all week. Art and I reconnected – Art was away from the Mansion for a while, he is back now, and at the Danforth.
We were glad to see each other, and Art doesn’t mind that I call him a pain in the ass, he is quite proud of it.
The other residents and one of the aides told me Art needed a new wristwatch, he showed me his old one, it was broken. I told him I would get him a new one, and ordered one tonight for $26.99. He and I looked at watches online together and we chose one he liked.
He took my arm, and thanked me for being there every day. I said I had missed a day or two, and he glowered at me, and said “I know.” He asked me how much the new watch would cost him and I said nothing. He asked me to throw his old watch away, he said it brought bad memories, he bought it in Montana.
Art and I often talked about the feeling of being orphaned, we connected in that way. No one in his family will speak with him or visit him. At the Danforth, he has no TV, and he can’t watch his Christian broadcasts. I brought him some Christian books, but his eyes are bad now, and he can’t read them. The audio books I got him didn’t work out.
“Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns. But for those like us our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try to see through our missions to the end, as best we can…” Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans.
The cake, which cost $40 and was made by Lisa Carrino of the Round House Cafe and Bakery (she is a true artist) was chocolate on the outside, white on the inside with vanilla and raspberry filling. It read “Mansion Residents: “We Love You, We’ll See You Soon.”
The stranded and worried residents – they were evacuated from the Mansion two weeks ago, and will be at least another week at the Danforth before returning to what they call their “home.” The tentative target date is February lst. Everyone involved – the residents, their families, the Mansion staff – is stressed and worn out and eager for this ordeal to be over.
I took out my story books – I read three from A Loving Voice, A Caregiver’s Book of More Read–A-Loud Stories For the Elderly.” And I told them about Helene Tursten’s new novel, “And Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good,” a series of stories about, an irascible 88-year-old woman with no family or friends, and no qualms about killing people who cause trouble to her or others.
This is the best thing I do, I thought, reading the stories. They love to hear stories, they love to be read too. We are more than ourselves, I thought, we are both human and divine.
I thought the resident’s eyes would pop out of their heads when they heard about Maud, I said I would return in a day or so to read a story about her, and everyone nodded.
Before I left, Tia, the night aide, was cutting up the beautiful cake that Lisa Carrino had made. Everyone wanted a slice. I confided to Tia that I had ordered another cake for the Mansion aides, it was coming in a day or so. I see that cakes brighten lives. “I feel all spoiled,” Alice told me.
“Great,” she said, “I’m working at the Mansion the next couple of days, I’ll get cake at least two days.”
You can support my work with the Mansion residents – we have an important week or so ahead of us – if you wish. You can send a contribution to the Mansion Fund via Paypal, [email protected] Or you can send a check to Jon Katz, Mansion Fund, 2502 State Route 22, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Thanks.