Monday, August 30, 2010

Music Hath Charms....

There’s a woman at the nursing home that always cries when we sing, “In the Garden.” I always sing it, even though I know how it affects her, because there’s an important connection there that is being made. The music cuts through her dementia and touches her past and it makes her cry.

I happened to know some of that lady’s past. I was her pastor many years before when she was a little younger. I know some of her losses and I know how she stepped up to some major challenges and I know about some of her heartbreaks. So I sing her the song that makes her cry because she needs to cry.

“You were always my favorite pastor,” she tells me every time just before I hug her goodbye.

I’ve seen it many times before. Music skirts past the chaos of dementia to connect us to our memories and reminds us of who we are.

One guy always asks me to sing a child’s song he learned in Sunday School: “Zacheaus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he…” He always gets this childlike grin when I sing it and he moves his hand up and down with the music like a kid might.

I used to know another woman who was often not pleasant. Once, I came in beaming at everyone and asked how they were. She crossed her arms and screeched, “I was doing fine until I saw you come in here with that old guitar.”

I patted her shoulder and said, “You don’t mean it.”

“Yes I DO!” she said incensed.

But she really didn’t.

I stood in front of them and belted out “Pow’r in the Blood.” The music caught her and in an instant she was singing right along with me.

“You couldn’t help yourself, could you?” I said. “You were singing so pretty right with me.”

She laughed. She couldn't help it.  For a moment, she was herself again.

The music helps me, too. Once when the doctor was monitoring my blood pressure, I went into her office right after I had sung with the nursing home residents.

“Your blood pressure is down. Have you been exercising?”

“No, singing.”

Last night we had a community singing. I heard other musicians play and sing and some of it was pretty good. Their old songs took me back to some good times where I remembered people who were precious to me and it made me cry. And it was a good thing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Face Touching

In the movie, “Life as a House” a divorced man who is also estranged from his son lies in the hospital room. The nurse touches his forehead briefly and he sighs deeply.

“I haven’t been touched in years,” the sick man says.

The nurse thinks about it a little and then softly strokes his forehead and face for just a moment. He sighs again and takes hold of her hand. She backs up in alarm.

“I’m sorry,” she said, acknowledging that she (they) had crossed a boundary in some way. She left quickly.

The scene resonated with me because within the last year I’ve gotten bolder about touching people’s faces. When they lay sick in the hospital, I place my palm on their foreheads like I’m taking their temperature. At a time of grief, when I’m hugging someone, I’ll sometimes pat her cheek or the back of his head.

Another time, I was on my knees in front of a woman sitting in a hospital waiting room while her son was fighting for his life. I held her hand and placed my forehead on it.

It’s intimate without being too invasive. I don’t do it often or lightly and I try to gauge how the person takes it. It has never been easy trying to find that balance between offering tender support and crossing the line of appropriateness.

Face and head touching is quite powerful. I think that’s why people open up to their barbers and hairdressers. In church we use it for baptism and anointing. The Pentecostals touch the people on the forehead so they’ll be “slain in the spirit.”

I don’t believe in that Pentecostal practice, but I wonder if that isn’t what the scripture is getting at when it speaks of laying hands on someone. There really is something about physical touch that brings one’s spirit close to another.

Face touching is my way of reaching past the loneliness, especially during times of great sickness or distress.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Didn't Know Enough

You hear about such cases in the news shows. A high school teacher had an affair with a student. She lost her job over it but they were in love and wanted to get married.

I was young and I had an undeserved reputation for being a good pastoral counselor. But I don’t know why the two were brought to me. Perhaps to help them see this was a mistake.

I had my opinions at the time. This was back when I didn’t know enough to form good opinions.

I assumed the teacher had seduced the boy and my job would be to help him get out of her clutches. But as I spoke to each of them, I became confused. The dominant personality of this pair was the teenage boy. He was physically big with an imposing personality. The woman, while a grown professional, was shy and miserable. The boy was charming and gregarious--like other predators I’ve encountered.

Legally, she was responsible. She was without excuse. If the genders had been switched, she could have gone jail. People thought she should have anyway.

I can’t argue with that.

But it was clear to me that the boy seduced her. He was the aggressor. If there was abuse going on, he was committing it. I wonder if he considered this woman his biggest score.

I’ve spent a lot of years trying to understand this episode. I didn’t help either of them. I didn’t know how. I wish I had focused more on helping the woman find the strength to resist him.

I hope she finally did. But I bet he hurt her a great deal before she did.

I just didn’t know enough to help.