Empathy and the Nursing Home

In my freshman year of college I was a student at the University of Memphis in Memphis, TN.  There was no religion major and almost all the Christian based groups on campus were baptist (the ones that weren’t were still very conservative).  There was however a small religion department made up of two Jewish Professors and a secretary.  Needless to say, I spent all my free time in their offices.

An opportunity like no other arose that year to take a class and for 10days over spring break travel to Israel.  So I signed up, somehow found $7,000 dollars and packed my bags.  We landed in what felt like middle of the night in Tel Aviv.  That night two other girls and I sneaked out of the hotel and walked along the Mediterranean Sea.  We took of our shoes, ran our hands across the pebbles and as the cool water of the Mediterranean hit my feet I knew there was something holy to this place.  That feeling continued until I got on a plane a week later. To this day when I close my eyes and think about it, the memory and the feeling remains strong.

The Holy Land is not the only place to have ever had this effect on me, when I left Memphis and people would ask me how I liked it there, I would say, “It was nice to live in a city with soul”. I have experienced that in other places too- New Orleans, New York City, rural Kentucky, the mountains of North Carolina.  They each have a different story and a different experience, but there is something about certain places.

Since my first experience with feeling life from a place, rather than a person, I have grown to cultivate my sensitivity to it.  Yes, what I feel from a place absolutely has to do with what is going on in my life, but it also has to do with what is going on in that place, its history and its present people. Ultimately, it comes down to empathy.  I am very sensitive to what is going on around me, it is part of my personality.  I am intuitive and empathetic to a fault. I believe in what Carl Jung wrote of the collective unconscious and know that we are all linked by a common creator.  What lives in me, though different, lives in you too and we are the same.

Which brings me to today.  Today was my monthly visits to the nursing home. Thankfully I only have two in nursing homes at the moment and they are not only in the same home, but, in my opinion, the nicest in town.  I used to think that I didn’t like nursing homes because of the smell and starkness of the halls and rooms.  But this place has no strong “nursing home smell” and the decor is actually quite lovely.  The staff is friendly and helpful, but I still cry in my car every time I leave.

Yes, I was there to visit parishioners whom I love and have cared for these last 6 years, but the crying is not about them, the overwhelming sadness comes from this place.  There are smiles in the halls along with cried for help, but I have come to believe it is the place that holds the sadness.  Maybe I’m crazy, but the place is full on hope that has died, a place of limbo, a purgatory on earth is you will.  There is still life in the people, but the hope is no longer there.  So I admit I leave each time feeling defeated.  I blame it on empathy, sometimes I wish it would go away, but mostly I am thankful for the experience. I know that a piece of these places lives in me and because of that, can be transformed into hope.  After that is, it is released through tears in my car…

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