Friends. Why is it that I don’t have time for friendship when I am well and ‘on track’? To sit and listen, and converse, seems to be an unthinkable squandering of time—I must be “doing something”, multitasking my way through these few moments of investing in friendship. Today though, I was visited by friends, as I have been throughout the recovery process. But as I listened to them—Marcy and Fred, Diane, Gwyn, Don—I found myself becoming entangled in their words, caught like a balloon in a tree branch. I quit struggling. Where, after all, does a one-legged person need to go? What is more important than someone else’s thoughts and feelings, and the quiet moments we can spend connecting with each other. I am concentrating on truly listening to each person—they have escaped their own schedules and priorities and are giving me a gift of their attention . I am relaxed, too, by the serenity in this place—unlike the hospital, there is no real schedule, no militant parade of blood thieves and temperature takers marching into my space: there is only the gift of the moment, a friend’s voice filled with sympathy and concern.
We are a disorganized bunch. At 5:30 PM we collect in the dining hall for the Saturday dinner. We come via walker, cane, wheel chair, dressed in sweat suits, well-behaved pantsuits, dresses, and flannel shirts and jeans. Almost all of us seem to be covered in white rabbit hair, which clings to our shoulders and stomachs from the time this afternoon when a white bunny visited each of us, brought by the 4-H ‘volunteers’. Later, the University of Michigan football game seemed to have filled our afternoon: I look down the hallway of open doors and hear the familiar songs and cheers from 24 television sets. Now, though, it’s over—and bunnyfurred and gloomy from UM defeat, we gather for the ‘prime rib’, French fries, mixed vegetables, and pie that constitutes the Saturday Night Special around here.
Now there’s a problem with offering Prime Rib to a bunch of senior citizens. First, dentures. Second, steak knives. Also, in a nursing home, steak knives are in short supply—there were in fact only two for the 20 people eating dinner. Our two nurse aides were assigned the job of cutting up the beef—and in many cases, it was indeed a real job! My dining partner Irene, a frail woman with toothpick arms, had a piece of meat that was tough enough to be used as flooring, and my piece was tiny, with large nodules of tan fat attached. All had to be cut, however, with the two ‘steak’ knives wielded by the two aides– and if the meat had been warm when served, it was clearly not warm when eaten. However, we did our best, chewing and chewing. A profound silence covered the room and the only motion was that of jaws, grinding away at the concrete meat. Not long after, chocolate fudge pie was served, still slightly frozen, but sinfully sweet. And as if in a single body, we arose quickly, driven by the sugar high. The rabbit hair floated behind us as we wheeled and shuffled down the long hall.