Beth’s grandfather talks quietly; his words tremble in the air and then vanish, like hot breath in the winter. There are no other chairs, so we are scattered about the room on a pair of footstools and some empty spaces of carpet.
Grandpa Cole is telling us about a devotional book that he ordered from the downtown bookstore. The book consists of a Bible verse for each day of the year, and Cole has purchased five copies of the book so that the family can read the same daily entries even when they are apart. We are visiting for the afternoon, and he wonders whether we might be willing to give him a ride to the store to pick them up: apparently the books have been waiting there for months.
Cole can’t drive himself. Earlier this summer he accidentally drove his car into
Since that time, he has lived in three separate retirement homes: two independent living communities and an assisted living community. I occasionally hear bits and pieces of these housing adventures from Beth—the rooms are too small, the people are too bland, something just isn’t right. And when we first arrived, Cole recited a litany of life’s curses. Indeed, we learned a great deal about his canker sore and lack of appetite.
But a wall of sound seems to separate us from Cole. The busy buzz of healthy independent life makes it difficult for us to empathize with this frail quiet man.
When we finally wander downtown in search of the bookstore, we forget the thoughtful generosity that initiated this search and only note that Cole can’t remember its location. And when he confesses feelings of loneliness and ineptitude, we call the nurse to check his mouth. We may try to treat his words with gravity, but they strike us as awkward and strange. It is as if each phrase is as an excuse for lake-driving.