Friday, January 9, 2015

A Sick Elder

I am lucky enough to have a job that is perfect for this stage of my life.  In the five years I've been in this position, I have found myself in many unusual situations, including the one yesterday afternoon that entailed our new 'dorkmobile' being filled with six African elders going to visit their friend in a rehab center. 

The sick friend, a blue-eyed, white-haired Ethiopian nicknamed "Mandela" by the staff of my workplace suffered a stroke right before Christmas and has been recovering in the hospital until Monday.  He has two adult children in town along with numerous grandchildren but lives by himself in a comfortable low-income senior apartment.  He was found laying down on his couch, alone in his apartment, having had a very bad stroke that left him unresponsive until just a few days ago.  'Mandela' has many friends here and has always stayed very active, taking the bus on his own every day to activities with his friends and to drink coffee every day at the local shopping mall.  In 2011 when I went to Addis Ababa to meet the five-year-old who is now my daughter, I had the chance to spend a rainy afternoon drinking coffee with his daughters at the home he built in the 60's.  At the time, his wife was dying, unresponsive in the main bedroom.  I brought medical supplies for her, things like adult diapers and ensure.  She died a few months later.

It was alarming of course to then see her husband yesterday in a very similar circumstance.  The seven of us walked in to the room where the TV was set to the 'easy listening' station which I'm certain he'd prefer to have been switched off.  He was leaned back on the pillow, head up, but silent, right side of his face drooping.  He looked at all of us.  The tall Eritrean friend stood at the foot of his bed and shook his head back and forth, clicking his tongue in pity.  It struck me how Americans would hide their feelings in front of the afflicted.  The married Ethiopian couple shook their heads, put their hands together, stood quietly at the foot of his bed.  The Liberian woman said her "ay-meh"s and sat down in the chair.  The gruff Somali man hung back, silent. I spoke to him in my upbeat American way. 

We all wanted to do something but there was nothing to do but stand and stare at each other.  The Oromo man, D, the one constantly teased among the group for being rural, simple, childlike is the one who shuffled forward towards our sick friend.  He stooped low, came near, spoke in a soft voice so quiet I could not hear.  He adjusted the pillows on the bed.  He held the hand of his friend.  He moved his blankets around.  Among us all, he was the most natural, and after a half-hour visit, he was the one who left last, again coming closest, leaning down towards his friend in a gentleness that made my heart want to burst.

As I drove around the city that day listening to the news of terrorist attacks in Paris, I stopped at various bus stops to drop off my passengers.  My car had in it the nations of Liberia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. There is still so much tenderness in this world. 

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