Today I went to a nursing home to visit a loved one.
It's possible that one of the worst things in the world is seeing so many elderly people who are sick and dying. And, as we all know, these things make any issues we have with our bodies seem both silly and embarrassing.
And even if I were thinking selfishly about my own issues today, I wouldn't have been able to feel bad for long because within an hour of arriving at the home, something happened to make me feel good about myself.
I was walking down the hall not long after we got there, looking for an extra chair, when I heard a voice coming from one of the rooms.
"Help me!" the voice said. "Please help me!"
I thought I was hearing things, so I stopped in the deserted hall and listened more carefully. "Help me!" the voice cried again. I moved toward the open door and saw two people—one rolled over towards the wall in the fetal position on a bed and another sitting in a chair on the other side of the room. I was sure that the person rolled into the fetal position was the one yelling, and as I got closer, the voice got louder: "Help me!"
"Do you need help?" I asked the rolled-up body, but it didn't answer or move.
Then I heard it again: "Please help me!"
It suddenly hit me that the voice was not coming from the person on the bed. I swiveled to the other side of the room and looked at the person in the chair—a man of about seventy-five with impossibly dark hair and big glasses. As soon as I turned to him, he said it again: "Help me!"
"Do you need help?" I asked him rather ridiculously, but I didn't know what else to say.
"Please help me" was his only response.
"What do you need?" I asked, knowing full well that his request might terrify me.
"I need help."
"What is it?" I asked.
"I'm scared," the man said.
"What are you scared of?" I asked as I imagined all the things he might say—being alone, getting sicker, living in a nursing home for the rest of his life . . . dying.
But he didn't answer my question.
Instead, he asked another: "What are you wearing?" And the way he said it—his head tilted to one side as if trying to get a better look at me, his voice as skeptical as my mother-in-law's the day she found out that I was marrying her beloved baby boy—told me that he thought I might be insane because of my choice in wardrobe.
I looked down at myself and laughed—what choice did I have? I was wearing a light blue jersey dress that even I sometimes think is a little odd. "A blue dress," I said, anxious to hear what he would say next.
"I like it," he said. "It's pretty."
I wasn't expecting that.
"Why thank you," I said because that's what you say when an old man in a nursing home tells you that you look pretty.
And then the man spoke again: "Will you help me?"
"Yes," I said without thinking again about what he would he would ask me to do.
"Will you tell the nurse I need something—something to keep me calm? Tell her Anthony needs something to keep calm."
"Yes, I will," I said. And then because I didn't know what to do next, I moved forward and shook his hand. "I'm Molly, Anthony."
"How did you know my name?" he said, and I let out a little laugh.
"You just told me your name, Anthony."
"Oh," he said.
"I'm Molly. Nice to meet you." I was still shaking his hand. "I'll tell the nurse."
"Thank you," he said. And then it was all over. I was in the hallway, searching for the nurse, so I could pass on Anthony's request.
And all I could think is how lucky I am to be alive, to be young, to have an old man tell me I looked pretty. Nothing could be better.