On a day that I was visiting someone in a nursing home, angels, disguised as caregivers, came in and requested that I step out while they worked. I walked down the hall, observing a life that caused me to ponder the circle of life.
I peeped into rooms — singles, doubles, and wards. “In that room,” someone pointed out, “are three sisters. They fuss with each other all day long.”
Lost in my thoughts, I wandered through a common area where a few elderly patients stared intently at a television but did not seem to see what was on it. A woman, sitting in an easy chair, called out. “Hey, could you help me?”
Usually, the help they want is that of escaping their imprisonment. I leaned down. “Well, I’m not sure that I can. What do you need?”
A quiet look of despair crossed her face which was decorated with years of worry and laughter. “I’ve wet all over myself.” She made the pouty face of a toddler who has to admit something similar. “I’m sopping wet.”
My heart blinked. I smiled and patted her hand reassuringly. “OK. I’ll find someone to help you. What’s your name?”
She reared back in her chair like a child about to proudly pledge allegiance to the flag, a smile lighting from one corner of her face to the other. “Tiger Woods!”
A gasp of laughter escaped my mouth. She was pale and fair with blue tinted eyes. And she was she. Not a he. “Your name is Tiger Woods?”
She nodded emphatically. “Yes. Tiger Woods. My name is Tiger Woods.” When I located someone to help her, I said, “She said her name is Tiger Woods.”
“That’s Lois,” she said as she shuffled away to check on her.
With Tiger Woods taken care of, I continued my wandering of the hallways. I stopped at each door and read the name plates, trying to imagine what each person’s life had been like over the years before landing at their last earthly destination. It reminded me of another time that I had studied names on a wall and wondered about their lives.
The Vietnam Memorial is there to remember those who fell while fighting a war at which America failed. It’s there so those soldiers won’t be forgotten. On a sunny Washington, D.C., afternoon, I had once visited it and read names on the black marble as the sun bounced brightly against it. I read the names of men I never knew or knew anyone who knew them. I was young then. In my 20s or so. Still, I tried to imagine what their lives had been and who the families were that they left behind.
I stood there, thinking, “Did that one have a wife and children?” “Was he an only child?” I tried to imagine the void created by the sacrifice of those names engraved on that beautiful marble. Each name had a story. A reality. And I couldn’t help but wonder what it was.
That day at the nursing home, I wondered the same. I tried to imagine their lives. Who they were, where they had been, who loved them and who loved them not. Some are visited daily, some never. Miss Mable has been there for years and, in that time, no one can recall a single visitor for her. She now sits on the sofa in the hall for hours with others who slump forward while she rocks gently back and forth, repeating constantly, “Leaning on the everlasting arms. Jesus, I’m leaning on the everlasting arms.”
There is a difference, though, between those who died with sacrifice and those who are barely living with sacrifice. The Vietnam Memorial is there so that those men will never be forgotten. That afternoon, I realized that there is something even sadder than being dead and forgotten.
It’s being alive and forgotten.