By Jeff Campbell
It was mostly out of a sense of duty that I visited my grandmother. I don’t really believe myself when I say it its not that I don’t care for her; in fact, I care for her very much. Its just hard to see her not know who I am, to be bedridden and so confused about where she is, so deaf she cannot hear me and so unable to talk above a mumble that really I cannot hear her either.
In honesty I’d have to admit that I was relieved when I found her sleeping in the dining hall. I was home free! I didn’t have a whole lot of time. I’d made an attempt. Id do my duty. Then I could go about my day feeling like at least I had tried.
I think that God smiled, though, as he put a nurse in my path. One of the things about God: He always figures out a way to show us who we really are. He exposes us when we’re posturing and knows when we’re the real deal.
“We can bring her out here and you can talk with her.”
The women motioned to the sitting room I was passing. It had a decent sized television screen mounted on the wall, a bookcase with ancient paperbacks, anda few semi-comfortable, institutional chairs and loveseats.
“Oh, sure,” I said with mixed feelings. I took a seat and watched the news for a few minutes on the television.
They brought her in to see me in this wheeled, reclining seat. A tray was across the front. It featured a strange assortment of food: milk, orange juice, oatmeal, ice cream, tuna-fish sandwich, pasta salad.
The nurse smiled at me, explaining, She needs to be fed these days.
To be honest, I was shocked. I had no idea that things had come this far. She needs to be fed! She’d once been so fierce and vital, more a force of nature than a grandmother. How could it have come to this? How could I have been so out of touch that I didn’t know?
“If you’re not comfortable doing this then we’ll have to bring her back to the dining hall and feed her ourselves.
I had this ungenerous moment when I wondered if she minored in being a used car salesman in nursing school. I’d agreed to hang out with my grandmother, not feed her!
I am not proud of how those words look. I was not then and I am not now. I have all these rationalizations and explanations, but the truth is that they do not matter. I had a choice to make at that point.
It was having that nurse watch me and wait for me to make a decision that tipped the scales. I should do it because it’s the right thing. I should do it because God’s wants me to. I’d probably never see this nurse again. Why should I care what she thinks? The fact that God is always with me and always will be is what should matter. But if the nurse hadn’t been there, what would I have done?
But in my brokenness I care what she thinks too much. And I don’t care enough what God thinks. I guess that God knows this. I suspect that He orchestrated this whole thing in a way that would nudge me toward doing the right thing.
I nodded. I wondered if my grandmother understood what was going on in that moment. She’d once fed me, and I wondered if she felt something, anything, about the idea that I’d now feed her.
The nurse smiled and made the food ready.
“She loves her sugar,” she said affectionately, dumping a packet into the oatmeal. “And her ice cream.” She opened the little styrofoam container. “She’s not eating much these days so do what you can.”
Perhaps this was the best moment of the afternoon: my grandmother always had a sweet tooth. It was so reassuring to know that there was somebody in this place who knew that, who took care of her.
I’ve been a Christian long enough to know how these stories are supposed to end. This kind of story is a genre unto itself. The writer is supposed to write about finding Jesus in the least of these. We’re supposed to revel in the idea that we get to pay back some of the care with which we were raised. Through this experience, we’re supposed to find this whole new level of communing, me, and my grandmother, and God.
The closest I can offer to any of this is that I did what I knew I was supposed to do. And it did make me happy to do it, to have something I can do with my grandmother. But it freaked me out, too.
I’m acutely aware of how much this isn’t about her at all. It’s about my own selfishness, my own fear of loss of power and control, my fear of aging, of not being taken care of. I can pray that someday it will feel like a spiritual act.
It doesn’t yet. And I wont do anybody a service by pretending that it does. Pray for me. Maybe someday it will.
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Jeff is attempting to follow Jesus’ revolutionary call on his life as a father of three, a husband, Special Education Teacher, and Director of Small Groups at Fellowship Church in Holden, Massachusetts. He frequently tells his kids–much to their great annoyance– that he’d like to be a fireman when he grows up.