We had trouble finding parking that December morning, I remember.
Dead leaves were swirling in invisible eddies near the automatic glass door, and the wind blew us in: two mothers and their babies. I held an infant carrier and the hand of my 3-year-old, and my insides echoed the rattle of the debris scratching pavement outside.
We were standing in the memory care unit of a nursing home. I wanted to be there. I want my children to be easy and familiar and kind in the presence of the elderly, respecting the length of their journeys and the wisdom they’ve often gained on the way.
But at the moment I was just the tiniest bit thrown from the stop we’d made outside the locked front gate, my car idling in the driveway, my chilled fingers reaching out the window. We’d apparently needed a code to get in. In unfamiliar places I like to be prepared; unexpected deviations from the plan turn my knuckles and cheeks various shades of pale, like a living and panicked paint chip. Once I calmed down I managed to finish reading the sign, which contained the magic numbers for entry on the last line, and here we were.
We waited for a second in the tiny waiting room, and then a woman in a red cardigan passed by.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes; are you Laurel? We’re the mothers who are here to visit with some of the residents. I talked with Kira over the phone earlier this week.”
“Oh. Well, that’s weird… she didn’t tell me anything about it.”
More shimmering paleness.
The woman gave us a kind look. “But if you wait a second, I’ll gather some of them up. Come on back.” She led us to an open kitchenette with a single table, and disappeared down a hallway. I settled Lucy in a chair and started to mix up a bottle for Little Jo, who at the time was a tiny-fisted, yawning little thing in footed pajamas.
Gradually a handful of residents came to the table, walking slowly with the help of caretakers or rolling curiously over in wheelchairs. I laid Little Jo in my lap and let her eat while I kept an eye on Lucy and how she was taking everything in. I was doing the same; I’m at my quietest when I join a group for the first time. It’s not unlike being dropped into a boat out at sea and trying to stop wobbling long enough to make out the letters on the compass. (Or so I imagine, being the seasoned landlubber that I am.)
The friend who was with us, thankfully, was the kind to ask warm questions and invite people she’d just met to take a chair. A cheery man named Fred came to sit and then shook the hands of every person around the table before heading back to his room for his mid-morning nap. “How old is this tiny one? Look at that hair,” he said, gazing at Little Jo’s dandelion pouf of fine baby locks.
As my adrenaline wore off a little, I noticed that the others in the group were content to do likewise. We’d brought some puzzles and books, but they were simply delighting in the rosy-cheeked babies who sat atop the table, and leaning over the arms of their chairs to ply Lucy with light questions. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but when I’m around people I often think I need to do more to make something successful, or pull on the mental garb of a role to make others comfortable.
But even I could see that no one in that room needed an activity director.
Sometimes just coming to the table is enough.
When I remember some of the places I’ve been, I know there are always seats to fill beside people who simply need a full presence near, more than words. They need someone to come eat a sandwich with them outside the hospital room of a loved one. Someone to drive them home on a winter morning while they sleep off, open-mouthed, the drugs from an endoscopy. Someone to bring the Kleenex after a hard phone call, and helplessly offer two willing shirt sleeves when the box is empty. I know this from the stories of others, and from my own.
On days when I don’t feel gregarious or interesting or charismatic, I’m grateful that there are places for quieted people to come and extend their hands — to be as much Christ in a waiting ear as in a beautifully bustling ministry.
So I eased back a little in my chair that morning, watching, rhythmically tapping the back of a milk-inebriated infant on my shoulder.
My phone rang.
“Sorry — give me just a second — this is the other friend who said she was coming late. Hello?”
“I’m at the gate and it’s locked. What do I do??”
There are other little memories I have from that morning, like the gentle woman in a wheelchair who wanted to stay within sight and earshot of so much life, but felt too overwhelmed to come further than the lobby’s edge. But the one I’ll never forget is the comment a caretaker made as her patient prepared to leave.
“I’ve been here a while,” she said, eyes lingering on the weathered faces around us, “and I haven’t seen this many smiles in a long time.
“I wish more people would come by.”
This post is part of a 31 day series about Loving God as an Introvert.
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