This past Mother’s Day, Paragon Assisted Living hosted a Mother’s Day Tea Party at their group home. The Chef organized local teen volunteers, some young men to pass out flowers to the residents, the young ladies hosted a manicure station, while others helped serve treats and sandwiches to residents and their families.
I decided it was a great opportunity to “suggest” to my son that he volunteer to play piano to entertain guests during the event, since his piano teacher encourages him to find opportunities to play in front of an audience. As an 18-year-old, he begrudgingly agreed to go, but making it very clear that he was not doing so willingly.
After his performance, we mingled with residents and eventually sat next to one of the ladies who began to share with us some of her stories about being taken hostage during the Vietnam War: how she escaped, and eventually also helped save a group of American wives who were in danger of capture. She told of street chases and close calls with soldiers. When we got home, my son couldn’t hide his excitement about this interaction. As he was re-telling it to his mom, he shared how “it’s one thing learn about it in school or in movies – but it’s so cool hearing about it from someone who was there – a real-live hero!” Needless to say, I was thrilled that his “boring” obligation turned into such a memorable experience. However, the bigger payoff was yet to come…
The very next day, I happened to be visiting the facility again to pick-up some items and found the same resident sitting in the dining room, visibly upset. So, I approached her to ask what was wrong, and she explained that she was distraught at having just heard that they were out of strawberry yogurt – and all that was left were the peach flavored variety. I tried to reassure her, telling her that I would ask the team to order a new supply of strawberry flavored yogurt, then tried to distract her by bringing up the events of the prior day and I relayed to her my son’s fascination with their interaction on Mother’s Day.
As I finished sharing my son’s remarks and reactions to her, I noticed her getting very emotional. I reached for her hand and lightly squeezed as she began to sob and mumble something incoherently to herself. When I asked her to repeat what she was saying, she regained her composure and stated more clearly: “I am not a zero! I am not a zero!” I guess the confused look on my face prompted her to explain further: “knowing that I was able to make a small impression on your son showed me that I still have a reason for being here!”
With that, I was reminded of how just slowing down to listen and engage can be so priceless to others and so richly rewarding for ourselves…and how we might even discover true heroes in our midst.