Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 12, 2009


Do what you can today to make some lonely person smile


          My aging face makes some people ask me when I am going to retire again. I reckon I will before long. But right now I enjoy trying to bring a little cheer to old folks like myself. Old people smile when they feel needed. I like to see smiles on aged faces.  

          The percentage of seniors in our society continues to grow. There are more and more lonely people who need to know they matter to someone. They don’t need much – just a little attention from someone who is not paid to provide nursing care.      For example, one such man was standing just inside the door as I walked in. He looked as though he was expecting someone. He did not notice me.  I started to speak but walked on when he did not look at me. I made my way to the room of another old man I had come to see.

          He was not in bed but sitting in a recliner. I delivered him a beautiful prayer shawl; it was royal blue with three white crosses embroidered on it. Some women at our church made the shawl.

          I explained that the women had prayed over the shawl, anointing it with oil and their love, and asking God to bless the man who would drape it around his shoulders. He seemed deeply touched. I prayed with him and left him holding the shawl.

          On my way to the man’s room, I noticed a large aquarium in the lobby. Easy chairs surrounded it. I remembered a small aquarium that my wife’s sister Dot had given me when I was recovering from a bleeding ulcer. “Take time to enjoy watching the fish,” she had said; “God will use the little fish to calm your spirit with His peace.”

          She had been right back then, so I decided to stop for a minute and enjoy the fish in this large aquarium. I counted 12 fish, some colored bright orange, and some silver. I relaxed. Calmness came over me as I watched the fish flit here and there trying to find food.

          Nearby a middle-aged man sat in a chair beside an older woman. Neither of them was speaking. I surmised she was his mother; he had come to visit her. His face betrayed a desire to leave; he kept looking at his watch. Could he think of nothing to say to the woman who had given him birth? I concluded that duty had brought him; now his own interests were compelling him to leave.

          My conscience stung me:  “You don’t know why the man is here; you may have misjudged him.” I was tempted to apologize as I walked by but did not. Give him credit. He had come to see his mother. I felt better. I had given him a break.

          Walking toward the door to leave, I saw that the old man was still standing at the entrance, gazing forlornly outside. This time I said, “Hello.” My greeting startled him. He turned to me and said, “Oh, hi.” Having distracted him, I asked, “How are you today?” He said, “Fine, thank you.” With that, he resumed looking out the glass panel beside the door.

I wondered why he had stood there looking out for so long. Was he looking for a son to stop by? A daughter? A friend? Or was he just enjoying a beautiful spring day and remembering days past when he could go and come as he chose? I had no way of knowing.  

          My next stop was at a similar building where dozens of other old people lived. In the lobby four older women were giggling as they passed around a large rubber ball. I stopped to see which one would drop the ball first.One of the women spoke cheerfully to me. “This is all we have to do,” she said. Her cheerful comment was weighted with pathos. I smiled and walked on.

          Down the hall old people were everywhere, some in wheelchairs, and others using a walker or a cane. One man – who had no legs – reached out for my hand. When I took his hand and stopped, he said, “Please put me in my bed.” I explained that I could not.

          Another man pleaded, “Get me out of here!” I smiled and walked on. A voice in a room on my right cried out, “Help me; somebody help me!”

          Oddly, some people do not speak. Several nurses and orderlies are gazing straight ahead, focused on their work. The look on their faces told me they did not enjoy what they were doing. But it is a job and the paycheck puts groceries on the table.

          In one room I chatted with a woman I had visited before. She has severe pain in one leg because of a stroke. During my first visit, I had asked her to pray for my knees and I promised to pray for hers. When I walked in, she smiled and asked, “How are your knees?” I was thrilled. She remembered. I had come to cheer her up, yet it was I who got blessed. She had put a smile on my face.

          I see many people these days that no longer live in the fast lane. Some live alone, cherishing memories of a dear companion whose death they quietly mourn.

          Visiting old people is something pastors do, you know. Admittedly it is never very exciting. But it does have its rewards. Now and then, you get to step into sadness, push the shadows aside for a few minutes, and bring a smile to some aging face. If, once in awhile, I can make one lonely soul feel that Jesus cares, because I care, then my life has meaning. In quiet moments I hear a voice saying, “Do what you can today to make some lonely person smile.”   + + +