mrs. jones’s plan to shut down the penitentiaries

this morning my car made a turn it doesn’t usually make. for 5 years i worked out of a church office that backed up to a nursing care facility. yet my only exposure to that nursing home was seeing an occasional worker sitting on the back steps for a smoke break. at the recent urging of a friend, i pulled up in the front of this home, where i sat nervously in my parked car for a few moments watching the rain fall on my windshield. moments later, my right hand was being grasped Mrs. Jones, an eighty, maybe ninety-something year old woman who was slouched in her wheel chair in a crowded hallway.

“you know why i wanted to hold your hand?” she asked.

“no, why?” i leaned in closer.

“because i like boys.”

i laughed curiously and asked if i could sit down next to her. for the next hour we talked about her grown boys and the pains of being old. her head was held up by a brace. every few minutes her eyes squeezed out tears from pains in her shoulder. i listened as best i could to her soft, weak voice trying as hard as she could to talk over the noise of the hallway–nurses yelling back and forth, other patients wheeling themselves past us, one worker cleaning the floors.

i spoke up over the noise. “i’ve got two kids myself. we just dropped my daughter off at school for the first time.”

“your heart must be pounding.” (she was 60 years older than me, but she hadn’t forgotten the nerves that come with being a parent.) “what grade is she in?” she asked.

“well, she’s actually in preschool.”

she was silent for a moment. “why does she need to go to preschool?”

i’ve heard this disapproving tone before. moms and grandmothers are perfect at it. i didn’t know how to respond.

“well, it’s just one day a week.”

“oh, well that’s okay. i was about to have to frown at you. parents don’t give their kids enough of their time these days. if they did, we wouldn’t need prisons.”

our time was filled with more advice for me as a parent, mostly things that would shut down the penitentiaries. but after hearing i worked for a church, she gave me a new set of suggestions.

“you go to your groups and get them to spend some money to build us old people some better places to live. and then you bring back some more young people like you to visit us. it’d do you some good.”

but my favorite advice from this witty, wise, frail woman was just before i left.

“tonight you get on your knees with that little girl of yours, and you say your prayers with her. keep ’em short so she can remember them.  you pray for that old lady, and be sure you say that, okay? ‘that old lady’– but in your prayer, tell your little girl that the old lady is actually God’s little girl. because i am. you got that?”

a few minutes later, i left Mrs. Jones where i found her. before i could get up she grasped my hand again.

“i told you earlier i like boys. i like kissing ’em too.” she leaned in and kissed my left cheek with her delicate lips. “you tell your wife and your little girl that i already gave you some sugar on that cheek today, but they can have the other.”

moments later i was back in my car watching the rain fall on the windshield. i cornered God in that moment, confessing that i too easily and frequently read past scripture’s call to “look after orphans and widows.” all i could do was thank God for Mrs. Jones and for pulling my car into that parking lot this morning.

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~ by bradherndon on August 20, 2009.

4 Responses to “mrs. jones’s plan to shut down the penitentiaries”

  1. Dang Brad. It’s too late at night for me to cry…I’ll have swollen eyes in the morning. Thanks for your insight. And thanks for making the time to visit with Mrs. Jones. I hope you go back. And someday, I hope there is a tender-hearted, caring young man with a sweet smile and soft cheek that comes to visit me.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Brad. Someone like you visited my grandma and listened to her as you did. She loved their visits, but they meant the world to me. Old people are so wise. Why don’t I listen more?

  3. You.

    RULE.

  4. Gee thanks Brad, you made me cry. :)

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