All jobs require duties easier and more enjoyable than others. This applies to the clergy as well. Apart from the priest’s service to God at the altar and to his fellow neighbor in the parish, he is received into the homes of parishioners not so much as a servant or clerk come to perform a duty; rather, in most cases, he is welcomed as a part of the family. After all, he is with us during the most joyous of life’s moments as well as those most difficult. Even hospitals that limit visiting to family members only, will make an exception for clergy.
Among the duties which are more difficult, not because they are tedious, but because they can be demanding even for some family members, is visiting nursing homes. The elderly there vary: Some are weaker than others, some walk the halls aimlessly while others are confined to bed or a wheelchair, some are more alert than others. It’s not the most desirable of life’s stages to see. Then again, one wonders if not seeing it – and, more importantly, not being with your loved one – is all the more tragic. Because there, amidst the elderly and weak and even senile, is also much joy and happiness.
It might be challenging to find enough motivation to set an hour aside and visit those who live in a world where schedules, even time itself, have seemingly stopped. But it’s during those visits we encounter more than the elderly and weak – many times they end up brightening our days!
Recently I visited one such parishioner. Truth be told, she always brightens my day. Due to her condition I doubt she fully knows where she’s at. But she knows to smile and laugh, which is what she does on cue seeing me. She knows I’ve come to see her. Such happiness and joy.
What, pray tell, does she have to be so happy about? I wonder at times. I hear bits and pieces of it between her laughs, about a life she lived long ago. Yet, it’s nothing to be so happy about. All I hear about is work and toil, about the farm and all the work to do. A life of labor. Still, I sit with her and we laugh and in her smile I see the happiness of a lifetime of honest work; one whose life’s experience has taught her the wisdom of scripture that “anger is but for a moment” and “weeping may tarry for the night,” as the Psalmist teaches, “but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Indeed, if death is nothing more than the absence of true, eternal and salvific life, then anger and bitterness must surely be its predecessor. For in Dorothy’s jocose manner and easy spirit it is more than just a good laugh I am given; I am imparted with a valuable lesson to cherish.
I pray for her, and to all of our dearest ones, many happy days in the good care of a team of well trained personnel who, though they look after their physical health, it is oftentimes those aged patients who will, with their genuine smiles of youthfulness, lift their spirits!
The Rev. Milovan Katanic is pastor of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Hermitage.