She came in late, as if in a rush, and looked around nervously before taking one of the few available seats. She exhibited more energy than the rest of them, and stood out because she was able to move about without assistance from a walker or wheelchair. Her posture was straight and firm; a stark contrast to her uncertain demeanor. Her clothing – perfectly ironed mauve colored pants with a matching plaid blouse. In her seat, she fidgeted with her hands like a first-grader. Her white tennis shoes tapped to an imaginary beat throughout the abbreviated worship service.
I had not noticed her there before.
She picked up a hymnal and rested it in her lap while she fingered her way to the announced page numbers. I couldn’t tell from across the room if she sang aloud or just mouthed the words, but she participated and seemed comforted by the church setting, even if it was in the open lobby of the Care Stone Nursing Home.
Our eyes met just before the closing prayer. Once the service was over, I made my way to her.
Her hand shot out to shake my own.
“Hi. My name is Maggie.” She announced with a voice as strong as expected.
“Well hello, Maggie. My name is Janet.”
“I’m just visiting here today. I didn’t even realize they were having a church service until I walked in.” Her lips opened to a half -smile, which invited me into the now vacant seat beside her.
“Well I’m glad you stayed. I hope you enjoyed church this morning.”
She nodded, then nibbled on a fingernail. “I grew up going to a Baptist Church in Donelson. Went there all my life. I’ll be back there next Sunday. I’m just visiting here today.”
“Sounds like a great church. I’m sure they missed you today.” I reached out to pat her on the hand. She adjusted her glasses and returned the favor. “Who are you here visiting?” I asked.
She had come in alone, so whomever she was visiting did not attend church with her. And she didn’t seem to know any of the other church-goers by name.
Many of the other guests were beginning to scatter, slowly maneuvering down various hallways or out the glass doors that led into a courtyard garden to enjoy the unexpected warmth of the late October sun.
She glanced around, then changed the subject. “My parents left me their home when they died. It’s where I grew up. I love it there.”
“It sounds like a wonderful home. Is it also in the Donelson area?”
She ran her fingers through her silver curls, still thick enough to hold a style. “Yes. I’ll probably go home today.”
“Good for you, but I’ll miss you next time we come. I’m sure glad you stopped by.”
“Me too.” She admitted. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Very nice to meet you as well, Ms. Maggie.”
I stood to pick up the hymnals and we shook hands again. She stayed in her seat, waiting, though I wasn’t sure for what. Or whom.
A gentle voice interrupted us from behind; one of the nursing home attendees, a friendly woman marked by a blue smock.
“Let’s go Maggie. It’s time to take your medicine.”
Maggie jumped to her feet and matched the quick stride of the nurse as they headed down the hallway. “Okay. But I get to go home today, right?”
I watched until they rounded the corner. My heart sank.
Maggie’s reality had changed without her permission. She now lived in an assisted living facility, and might not even realize it.
It happens to all of us at one time or another. Life changes without our permission, and we find ourselves sitting at a table in the fog of a funeral home being forced to make burial arrangements. Or in a doctor’s office processing negative test results. Unsure of our surroundings or our next step.
I reminded myself that God is already there. “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NIV).
That’s a holy sort of Assisted Living. I prayed God would meet Maggie in the midst of her new reality.
I wondered if she would remember me on our next visit.
Regardless, I knew that I would never forget her.