Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fun at Tab Williams

Okay - I know I said I was going to cover "Internet Resources" today, but then I realized: what a broad subject!  I can do some of that later (don't have to do it during this one-week introduction blitz).  Instead, today I'll write something completely different.  I'll tell a story.

We had to choose a community service event.  Our whole department had to participate, but at least we got to choose our poison.  Some of us could work at the food bank.  Others could build benches at the children's home.  Yet others could bake goods for the needy.  I was one of the few to choose working at Tab Williams, our city's adult day center.  I had done it last year and I wanted to do it again.

Unlike the other events, Tab Williams involved interacting with people.  The other events instead required doing good things for people to enjoy later: sorting food, cooking, building things.  That kind of hard work is easy.

But interacting with old people is hard.  It's scary - because if we live long enough, we'll be old, too - and none of us wants to think about not being able to take care of ourselves.

Only five of us signed up for Tab Williams.  We made our plans: three of us would sing.  The other two would help with BINGO.  We practiced our music beforehand.  We gathered paper supplies to donate.  We decided what we were going to wear for "S" day. 

Then the day came.  I came wearing my green "s"equined vest.  Kyle wore a funny "s"ombrero.  Kaman wore funny looking green "s"horts.  I wonder if they belonged to his wife.  The other two didn't wear anything special, but that was okay, as they were funny looking anyway.

SpringHill Marriott representatives were there as well.  They brought the BINGO equipment.  As they set up, the seniors did their daily walk - at least some of them did.

I recognized one senior from last year: Sarah.  Last time, she was so energetic and so funny - cracking all kinds of jokes and making people happy.  She smiled at me as recognition came to her face.  I said, "Hi," and she joyfully grabbed my hand to go walking around the center.  Then she started talking to me.  It was gibberish.  She looked as if she understood what she was saying, but I had no idea.  I just nodded and talked about the weather as we walked.  I tried not to let her see the sadness I felt when I learned her condition had gotten worse.

Sarah pointed to the door to the garden outside, and we went.  She held my hand as if we were on a romantic walk.  She reminded me of my grandma who passed away a few years ago.  I wondered if I somehow reminded Sarah of one of her sons, or a past lover.  Whatever it was, she seemed happy.  I led her back inside and then she walked off on her own.  Just like that, she was done.

Then I recognized Sam.  I remembered talking to him a year ago.  He had seemed in full control of his faculties.  He spent most of his time reading a book.  He had described to me in frank detail about how he was mostly okay, except he would have sudden blackouts and couldn't be left alone.  He said he was getting better and perhaps in a year or so he'd be back to 100%.

Well, here he was one year later - sitting in a chair reading a book.  I said hi, and he said hi back.  We shook hands, and I could tell he wanted to get back to his book.  A little later when we started singing, I saw Sam get up to head to the restroom.  He was in a wheelchair - meaning that his condition had gotten worse as well.  I meant to ask him about it, but I never got the chance.  They must have picked him up early.

Before I continue, remember that Tab Williams is a "day center", and not an old-folks home.  No one lives at this center.  It's a place for seniors to go when their loved ones are off at work.  The center is geared toward stimulating social interactions and a few physical activities and promotes independence.  In fact, Tab Williams just won some kind of award recently for being the best adult day center in the nation.  Look up Tab Williams together with Bowling, and you can read all about it. 

I hoped to see them do some Wii Bowling, but they don't do that on Wednesdays.

Finally, there's one more lady I want to write about.  When we did our singing, one of the staff went around with a mike to selected seniors - whoever wanted to sing.  When we did a couple of hymns, a guy joined with his harmonica.  When we did "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", it was Juliet's turn on the mike.  She didn't sing words, but she vocalized.  It was like a heavenly voice full of innocence and experience mixed together.

About an hour later when I was doing the rounds, I approached Juliet.  She looked at me and asked, "Is it time to go?"  I answered, "No, not yet."

"Do you live here?" she asked.  I answered, "No."

"I'm from Sacramento," she said.  I answered, "That's a wonderful city."

"Have you even been to Oklahoma?" she asked.  I answered, "I drove through there once.  It took a couple of hours."

"Do you live here?" she asked again.  This time I was a little confused, because I already answered that question.

I decided to cut her off at the pass and take a different approach.  I said, "You're a wonderful singer."


"You have a beautiful voice."

She looked a little flattered, but confused.  She replied, "How do you know that?"

"I heard you an hour ago.  You sang 'Over the Rainbow.'"

This whole time, Kyle was playing the piano while another colleague, Fred sang hymns.  Kaman (who like me didn't know these hymns) was helping a couple of seniors in handling the mike.

Juliet turned to me and asked, "Have you ever been to Oklahoma?"  I then realized that she suffered from one of those short-term memory diseases.  I quickly learned to use this to our mutual advantage.  I learned which answers to her questions made her happy.

After a few minutes of answering the same questions, I was about ready to get up when she suddenly cut off our discussion and started singing along with the hymn Fred was singing.  It was one of those hymns I didn't know, but there was something about her voice and the words of the hymn.  I just wanted to cry, because I had never heard anything so beautiful, innocent, and sincere.  For a brief moment, all those stupid things we worry about every minute of the day just disappeared, and I caught a glimpse of heaven.  When the hymn was done, she told me again, "I'm from Sacramento."

I had to get up.  I told her, "Nice to meet you."  For the rest of the day, she kept looking at me as if she knew me, but couldn't quite figure out who I was.

We were only there for three hours, but so much happened that it felt like a full day's work.  I was exhausted.  There were so many great personalities in the room, and I saw that even with the troubles they had - they had never lost their souls.  It gave me hope - that what we are stays with us no matter what happens.  People are inherently good, and we get better with age.  We learn what really matters in life.  We adapt to whatever gets thrown in our paths.  We are human, and we survive.

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