The Sunday after Easter several from the church went to the St. Raphael’s Assisted Living facility (also known as a nursing home.) Thanks to Jeff and Angie on guitars and Dawn on the flute, we offered alternative, lively music. Thanks to several others, we had strong singing as well. Their hymnals are large in font, few in hymns, but we found some Easter ones they knew. Unlike last time where there were several that sang loudly and well, this group was less connected to the present, but enjoyed themselves. One woman who could not talk still bounced her foot in rhythm. Afterwards, as a special event we served treats as well as gave away Easter containers. All had a good time.

But until I got there, I have to admit great trepidation. I really, REALLY hate nursing homes. I am not sure which is worse: dementia where you cannot remember anything and often are in fear or anger towards everyone, or being mentally competent but so physically disabled that you must live in a nursing home. To me, in the ideal world (a world of my own creation), before that time a party would be held celebrating our life, then we would travel off into the sunset to be mercifully killed.

Life in a nursing home is a long haul for many. Not only for them, but for their friends and family who have to remember to visit, to do their best to help while feeling helpless. For those without friends or family nearby, it is being very, very alone. In good places, the staff does their best. In bad places, investigations are done.

So I was less than enthused when the deacons decided to lead worship and offer treats at St. Raphael’s. It was something that needed to be done, but….. Music is one thing, but a message? If most have dementia and talk throughout the short message and prayer, what do you do? Does any of it help?

In the road to Emmaus passage, the two disciples are trying to escape from Jerusalem and their grief. Yet Jesus met them as they were, and first listened to them, then helped. He walked with them. He listened before he talked. He broke bread, acting as host rather than guest, and was recognized in the blessing, breaking and giving. They were still themselves afterwards, but hope and joy had transcended and reshaped facts as they

knew them. Yes, the crucifixion was real. But so was the resurrection, and so was Jesus walking with them.

A friend was a Navy pilot shot down during the Vietnam War. At first so many bones were broken that as a Prisoner of War, his fellow prisoners had to wash him, feed him, do everything for him. At first he continually apologized and felt ashamed. Then slowly he learned the benefits of being interdependent, rather than independent. Both sides had things to offer, to give. Both sides needed the other. It freed him from needing to be totally self-sufficient in order to have worth.

Maybe that is what we learn if we have to live in a nursing home. In The Christian Science Monitor there was an article where a person set up a company linking incoming foreign students with active-mind nursing home residents, via Skype. The students practice their English, learn the ins and outs of living in an American town, and thereby feel more confident as they approach this major change in their lives. For the nursing home residents, they benefit by being able to give, not just receive. They have things to offer that the other needs. It is a win-win situation. Isn’t that a marvelous program?

I still fear and don’t see any benefits in dementia. But where the mind is still tracking, perhaps those in St. Raphael’s and other places both learn some good things about themselves, as well as can teach us if we will listen. Like the Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, we may not see until after the fact, but afterwards, our hearts burn within us.