Try to picture a classic novel, anyone will do. Maybe it’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, or “The Adventures Tom Sawyer”. Now imagine its appearance. The cover may be tattered and torn and the pages worn thin. There may be a coffee stain here and a smudge there, but the content within remains untarnished, just as powerful as the first day it was printed. This classic book, no matter how old and worn it’s exterior is has something meaningful to offer those who are willing to invest the time in reading it!
In high school, I remember begrudgingly rolling my eyes when my English teacher announced the next classic novel that we would get the “privilege” of reading. Why couldn’t we read something more current, I wondered? Is that old thing even applicable to me anymore? Shakespeare seemed like a weird dude anyway, can’t we just settle for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Vampires Games or something?
On a completely different note, I have been in Puebla, Mexico for the past two weeks with some fellow social workers learning more about Mexican culture. The REAL Mexican culture, rather than the distorted and biased hogwash we get fed every day in the US. Turns out, Mexican culture is MUCH more than Taco Bell and fiestas. WHO KNEW?!
(Deep breath, I’m only making light of a common misconception about our southern neighbors)
During our time in Puebla, I was especially impacted by the 20 hours I spent volunteering in a nursing home. La Casa de Ancianos is run by Catholic nuns and nurses and is home to 60 or so elderly residents who have nowhere else to live. Some are wrinkled and hunched over, others bound to a wheel chair. Others have slowly lost their sight, hearing, mobility, or all three. While at first glance it may seem to be full of people growing ever closer to death, the casa is actually just the opposite. It is a place flooded with vibrant life and love. It is a collection of people with more wisdom and life experience than I can even fathom. It is a place where people choose to be happy rather than to succumb to the frustrations of their physical or mental ailments.
I can’t fully describe how thankful I am for my time at La Casa de Ancianos. Every day, I was greeted with genuine smiles from people who simply crave human interaction and love… like we all do. My sweet friend Celia, a recent widow, repeatedly told me how grateful she was that we came and chatted every day. Jose and I swapped stories about everything from our families to the Broncos football season. Benito shared his frustrations of getting his right leg amputated and his lack of mobility after a very active lifestyle for 60 years. These are just a few of the many interactions I will always hold near and dear to my heart from these wise people. I realize my short time at La Casa did not have any profound impacts on them; I was a mere blip on their radar. But the tiny glimpse into the lives of older adults is an experience that did have a profound impact on me
The most valuable lesson I learned from La Casa de Ancianos is that I need to work harder on loving people better. I’m talking about a raw, uninhibited, genuine love. When I first arrived at La Casa, I was intimidated by the deteriorating appearance of so many of them. I assumed that many of them were unhappy and did not want to socialize because of their gruff appearance. I’m so thankful that their loving spirits trumped my own insecurities.
Whether it’s a classic novel in English class, or the wrinkly granny down the street, we must never judge a book by its cover!