Many years ago a young woman, about twenty years old, went into a church and knelt down on a little wooden platform to pray. To pray to God, to pray to Jesus, to pray the way as a Christian she had been taught to pray.
She sat there on her knees with her hands in front of her head and chest and she asked God for happiness for herself and for everyone else.
There was real integrity in her request. She was not asking because she just felt like it or because someone told her what to do. She did it because she wanted to.
She knelt like this for about twenty minutes, then got up. As she did so she saw an older woman standing near her. She recognised her because she had seen her in the church before but she didn’t know who she was.
“Can I join you?” said the older woman.
The younger woman replied: “Oh well, yes, but I have just finished and I have to go.”
Then the older woman said: “Do you mind staying with me for another two or three minutes? I want to tell you something.”
The younger woman replied: “Yes, of course, what do you want to tell me?”
Both women sat on a bench inside the church and the atmosphere was beautiful. They were the only two people in the church at that moment. There in that peace and quiet the younger woman heard the story of the older woman who had been through a huge amount of pain and suffering with her family. Huge. By the time she finished, in quite a compassionate way, the younger woman said to the older woman: “Why did you tell me all these stories? Why?”
The older woman looked at her and didn’t actually know what to say, and answered: “Well I don’t really know but I felt that you were the person that I would like to tell my story to.”
In that moment, the younger woman experienced a moment of fear and a moment of love. Her fear came from her thinking: “Why does somebody need to tell me all these very, very difficult things?”, and her love came from her thinking: “I really feel close to this woman.”
She thought to herself: ‘Shall I leave or should I stay with her?’ She said:
“Would you like me to stay with you?”
The older woman replied: “Yes.”
Everyday for the next three months or so the younger woman went to the church and the older woman came and told her the story of her very, very sad life with her family.
One day the younger woman said: “Do you think there is anything you still wish to tell me? “
And the older woman said to the younger woman: “No, but you taught me something very important, you taught me about friendship. You taught me that I can have a friend in my life.”
The younger woman looked at her with very big tears in her eyes and said: “As you have learned about it I have done the same. As you learn about friendship, I learn about friendship. Thank you for all that. I have learned quite a lot from you.”
The older woman looked at the younger woman and said: “Without you I would never, never, never have an idea that I can have actually a friend as I never had any friends.”
The two women left the church. The younger woman never saw the older woman again because a week later she died. She died from a heart attack or something. She wasn’t old, but she died. And at her funeral the young woman sat in the church and thought herself: ‘I lost a friend but I learned what it means to be a friend.’
I am telling you this story because last week ago my 89 year old friend Jean went to ‘live’ in an aged care facility. I don’t know if her stay is going to be permanent, I don’t think anyone does, but as her medical team told Jean ‘it is time’, she agreed to ‘give it a try’ as she has great difficulty walking. From the waist up she is a trickster, but those legs and right hip of hers are another story entirely. Jean was born in her house and I could understand that she was reluctant to leave it.
I started helping Jean a little more than a year ago. She lives across the road from me. She lives alone as her husband George, who passed away last year, had been in a nursing home (the same one she has gone to) for nine years. Her family are loving and supportive – food purchased, washing done, house cleaned. Although Jean received a hot meal at lunchtime every week day from her local Meals on Wheels service, I became aware that she was making herself a sandwich for dinner because she could not operate her microwave oven as she has Macular degeneration of the eyes and her hands shook as she has Parkinson’s disease. So I offered to come over every evening (when I could) to pop a frozen meal in the microwave for her. I felt this was an easy thing for me to do and I believe this is what members of a community might do for each other. She accepted my offer and as the months went by I sat with her at her little kitchen table while she ate her dinner and told me her stories. After dinner I would help her put her ‘patches’ on and administer eye drops or change a dressing on her legs. She was always bumping those legs!
She was always so very grateful – and often gave me ‘points’ for how much I had helped her that evening. I laughed about that and inquired what I had to do to get four points as it never seemed to get above two! That trickster in her never told me.
As the months passed by I found myself acknowledging and actively welcoming the energy of friendship with Jean into my life. I accepted her as she was, I did not judge her and I did not want anything at all from her and I am happy that I have connected with this very, very deep part of myself. I did not intend it, force it or push it, it simply happened. An example of embracing life’s experiences and not trying to control them.
I visited Jean the day after she went to her new abode. She was with a group having morning tea and she introduced me to the group by saying: “This is my friend Ruth.”