Monday, October 15, 2007

Mollie’s Roommates

Written Monday, October 15, 2007 

One of the many reasons I love doing volunteer work at my church is because it's the only area of my life that, 100% of the time, turns out to be more fun than I expect it to be. 

You know how it is. The majority of activities in life are underwhelming. You get all psyched for a party and then you get dressed up and go, and after about fifteen minutes you think "OK. I'm so bored I want to chop my own head off." or - as you're headed home from your friend's show in Pasadena at 1AM on a work night you think "Well, that's twenty dollars and three hours of my life I'll never get back..." Maybe it's just me, but most things don't live up to my expectations. Maybe I'm a bitch.

But really - my church activities never, ever fail to give me back much more than I could ever imagine. I was reminded of this yesterday when I went to visit Mollie Cooper. Mollie is a tiny English lady in her mid-eighties. She has been in a nursing home for many months undergoing tests and trying out new doctors as she awaits diagnosis for a mysterious paralysis of her right leg. I first met Mollie when I was assigned to take communion to her as part of our parish outreach, and I've been dropping in to visit her on a regular basis ever since. Mollie is perfectly healthy and her mind is as clear as a bell, so it is particularly frustrating for her to be confined to her bed and a wheelchair when she wants so much to return to her home and to her life. 

Usually when I visit Mollie she has not been sleeping very well. She's in a room that holds three patients and unfortunately her roommates, who are in various states of elder mental deterioration, keep her up all night moaning, screaming or rambling incoherently at the top of their lungs. Mollie is quiet and gentle and would never complain, but the inability to sleep has been horribly distressing to her. When I visit her we always try gamely to chit-chat and have our communion amid the din of those two poor lost souls who are never quiet.

Yesterday, though, I walked in and said "Hey - what's this? You got two new roommates?" She introduced me to them: Lillian, recovering from hip surgery, and Suzanne - a middle-aged Chinese lady suffering from the effects of diabetes. They were just as lovely and sweet as Mollie herself. We talked awhile and then I said, "Well, I guess Mollie and I need to get started on communion. Will you excuse us?" and Lillian said "Oh - I want communion too!" Suzanne rolled over in her wheelchair "Me too! I want to participate!" 

Usually I don't like to seem evangelical - I'd never ask anyone to join in or try to "recruit" them in any way, but these ladies were jumping right on the bandwagon. They took the little programs for the hospital service from me and looked them over quite seriously, then they got very still and ready to pray.

I have to admit that the mini-church service I performed, which usually takes about 5 minutes, stretched to 10 minutes because I was showing off and wanted to give these ladies a good impression. I took my time with the prayers and the scripture readings and tried to give a particularly profound, sonorous ring to the words so everybody would get some sort of mystical feeling from it.

When it came time in the service for communion I gave them each a wafer while saying "the body of Christ, the bread of Heaven" and then gave them all a sip from the miniature silver chalice saying "The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation." Each lady crossed herself, then closed her eyes as she received the host and wine. No matter where I perform the service or participate in it, I always am struck by people's faces as they receive communion. They are so calm. It seems that they are connected to the constant flow of a sacrament that is happening in thousands of places throughout the world at that very moment, and which has continued in an unbroken current since Jesus first performed it over two thousand years ago.

What a delight to share this intimate moment with two strangers - Lillian and Suzanne. How wonderful that they recognized its importance and wanted to participate with me and Mollie. After we finished up the service and did our closing prayers, my usual overflow of "thank you's" and "you did such a good job!"s from Mollie were multiplied by three as Lillian and Suzanne expressed their appreciation. I returned all their thanks and told them they also did a good job, and I told them I'd be praying for their quick recovery. 

And so I got my usual happiness from seeing Mollie - times three. I can't think of anything else that gives such a great return.