This post may strike a few folks as a "downer" but please rest assured it's not meant to be one -- I'm just trying to share something I feel is important. (We're all OK, and I've got more Pipsqueak stuff that I'll post soon.)
Tonight I had one of those experiences that makes me glad I work in a nursing home while simultaneously making me wonder how much longer I'll be able to work in a nursing home.
We have one prototypical "little old lady" who spends more time watching movies than I knew there were hours of movies made. Not just any movies, mind you; she's got the channel number for Turner Classic Movies on our system memorized. Miz H will grudgingly watch a more recent film if it's particularly well-acted, or has enough buzz to attract her attention... but she's the kind of cinephile for whom TCM and similar channels were made. She'll go to her room for her meds or to take care of personal business, and will go to bed for a few hours here & there during the evening, but the majority of her time is spent in front of the big-screen TVs in either the dining room or TV room... sometimes literally all night long if the playbill is particularly good. Back in February I found her watching a movie filmed in (early) Technicolor and we joked about how she wasn't supposed to watch because it wasn't in black & white.
This evening, Miz H was in her usual spot in the otherwise empty main dining room, happily sharing her evening with a monochrome Bing Crosby and company. Making my rounds, I passed through the room just after the movie had ended and TCM began a quick retrospective of all the "movie people" (thespians, singers, directors, writers, cinematographers, etc.) who we lost this year and I stayed to watch.
As I stood unseen a few feet behind Miz H's wheelchair, I quietly marveled to myself at how many talented idividuals we lost this year, many of them best known for the period of movies that she seems to prefer. One after another, quick clips of famous and not-so-famous faces flashed onscreen in the order in which they passed, presented in TCM's usual artfully constructed manner. And then, maybe halfway through the presentation, Miz H did something I've never seen her do before.
She turned her wheelchair away from the screen.
Miz H didn't leave the room; she just sat where she was, facing the doorway, seemingly looking across the hallway. I watched the rest of the segment, and when it was over moved around to where I was sure Miz H could see me before I approached (her hearing's not so good anymore, so it's easy to accidentally sneak up & scare her). As I came up next to her wheelchair, she looked up at me and I could see the tears in her eyes, and I suddenly I knew why she turned away.
Those were her friends up on that screen. They weren't just famous people working in the entertainment field -- they were in a sense her family, perhaps the cousin once removed who lives in another city, the niece or nephew who's too busy establishing their life to visit often, the sibling who lives too far away to see over the holidays. They were the people she had grown up with, spent her time with, and who were now almost all she had left of all the years she's lived. And now they're gone.
Their images and voices remain, sometimes showing them a little wrinkled, sometimes in the glorious bloom of youth... but now she knows for sure there will never again be a new movie for her to see them in, a new piece of their work for her to pass her time with (and perhaps also a question of how many more movies she will be here to see, herself).
I rested my hand on Miz H's shoulder and said, "They were quite a group... are quite a group, aren't they?" and she just gave me a half smile and shook her head, then said "Thank you" and turned back to the (now safe to watch) screen as I quietly left the room.
It is a lesson I keep running into face-first (or perhaps stepping on while tip-toeing through a minefield), here at work. No one knows how many movies we'll be around to make (or see), but the one unassailable truth is that there will come a time when our favorite stars -- on film or in everyday real life -- will no longer be here to make more.
So... in the sometimes crazed minutes of this extended holiday season, while dealing with shopping lists bigger than bank accounts, more cars per square inch than asphalt, more people packed into stores than merchandise, concerns about whether or not Aunt Tillie will actually like a fuschia sweater embroidered with puce stars and fuschia reindeer...
...take a deep breath and hug anyone (everyone!) near you about whom you care. (You can't know when you might not get another chance). Take a moment to make sure you've memorized a favorite mannerism, quote, or whatever je ne sais quoi that makes them, them. Most importantly, be sure to sprinkle plenty of extra I love yous in among all the happys and merrys. That's really the one gift that's as good for the giver as the givee, and arguably the only one that no one can ever possibly have too many of.
So here's wishing you all, in no particular order (and in some cases somewhat belated), a good and/or happy and/or merry Deepavali/Diwali, Islamic New Year, Vikram New Year, Ashurah, Hanukkah, Sinterklaas, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice/Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Childermas... and a happy, healthy new year shared with those near & dear to you. (Pass it on!)
My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅-- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!