Stories human and divine are holy ground; they connect us, console us, and draw us out of ourselves.
By Suellen Dusek
19 October 2017
“I have to pick up my kids. They’ll be waiting at the bus stop. It’s cold out! I’ve got to go now,” cried Millie.
It was 3:30 p.m. The huge, decorative clock on the wall said so, and it elicited the same anxious reaction from Millie each day. Bess, the CNA who worked Millie’s zone after lunch, was responsible for helping her up from her afternoon nap. Bess usually situated her on the little couch facing the clock before racing off to assist another resident.
At 87, Millie had been diagnosed with dementia. She could no longer remember what she’d done earlier in the day, last week or last month. She didn’t recognize herself when she looked in a mirror. In fact, Millie had quite forgotten that James, her husband of 50 years, had died some 17 years prior. If you asked her age, she would probably tell you she was thirty-something. It changed from day to day.
“It’s okay,” said the soft-spoken lady with the kind brown eyes. “James is going to pick up the kids today. No worries.” Millie couldn’t remember the lady’s name, but she remembered her face and the way she always made her feel—safe.
“Tell me about your kids and about James. How did you two meet?”
Millie hesitated, but the lady next to her smiled encouragingly. Millie’s face softened, and with a sigh, she launched into her favorite story. “It was a beautiful October evening. There was a harvest moon dance. I was sixteen. He was 18 and so handsome…” Jenn settled into the worn, comfy couch for a story she’d heard so often, she could repeat it word for word.
Have you ever listened to someone tell you the same story over and over again? How did you respond to that person after the fifth, tenth or fifteenth repetition? Did you realize that, in sharing the same story time and again, that person was entrusting you with something sacred—that you were standing on holy ground? Did you ever ask yourself why that particular story? People invite us into their hearts and lives when they share their life stories with us. And we, for our part, need to be more attentive and gracious. We need to receive that story with the same hospitality and courtesy the tenth time as if it was the first.
The other day, a friend of mine poured out her heart in bitterness over a story I’d heard many times before. The truth is that I was tired of hearing it. It was all about her childhood and the bad things that happened to her. I wanted to scream, “Why can’t you forgive? Why can’t you just move on?” It was her favorite awful story—just one of many in a long train wreck of life experiences. Listening to it for the umpteenth time was kind of like watching someone pick open a scab. It was 1 a.m. I was weary, but I listened. Why? Because when someone shares their story with you, even if it’s the most awful story, you stand on holy ground. That’s not the sort of thing you brush off. Frankly, I had little to offer in the way of consolation. It was late, and I was gassed, but I think she just needed me to listen, and so I did. Funny thing is that the requirements for being a good listener are not always that stringent. You don’t need a fancy degree or perfect responses to be a good listener. All you need is a willing and hospitable disposition.
Just today, I prayed the Rosary. Same old mysteries. Same old Gospel stories. I’ve heard and meditated upon them so many times that only God knows the count. However, I remind myself that even though the mysteries remain the same every time, every time, every time, our circumstances change from day to day, and the way we view those mysteries, in relation to our present life situation, is made fresh and new. Finally, when we pray the Rosary, we stand on holy ground. Mama Mary smiles at us encouragingly, and the Holy Spirit opens our hearts and imaginations to new insights and ways of looking at things.
It may be late at night, I’m tired, and I just want to go to sleep, but I shut off the lights, light a candle and pray. One Ave after another, I rock quietly as I peer through my front window into the quaint and quiet, winding street of my neighborhood. It’s peaceful. It’s my little bit of holy ground.
Hi, my name is Sue. I grew up in the Midwest where the land is stable and doesn’t shift under our feet. No earthquakes here, but we do have an occasional tornado or blizzard. This place shaped me into what I am: a practical, down to earth, family-loving, sensible, occasionally comedic, cradle Catholic who has struggled with my faith and remaining in relationship with God and others all my life. I make progress in baby steps, not miles. I hope to offer something that is spiritually edifying to others on this earthly journey. Keep me in your prayers, please. God’s blessings to you all!