By Abigail Bodeau
Less than an hour after landing in Albuquerque, I found myself walking through Costco with two Little Sisters whose white veils fly when they stand near the air vents. Walking two steps behind the Sisters, I hardly said a word, in large part because in all the time I spent in Sunday School I never learned how to act when walking through Costco with two nuns. I went into this experience without a clue of what to expect, and the first handful of hours into the program proved to be surreal.
Looking back, my summer did have a sort of bizarre quality. I learned how to navigate the breviary (with an excitingly moderate success), polish a bronze statue (of St. Jeanne Jugan), work an industrial dishwasher, and above all, I learned to never, never, NEVER kneel down in a walk-in freezer, especially while wearing a skirt. I’m still surprised my knees survived that one. Yet, more than surreality, my summer was characterized by a feeling of comfort, familiarity and community. One of the greatest gifts the Sisters give is the extension of their religious community, for the Sisters do not only include the residents, staff, and volunteers into their community (Mass, Rosary and Evening Prayer). Their vow of hospitality gives the soil, sunlight and water so that the community of the Home flourishes, not independent of, but certainly extending beyond the Little Sisters. The Sisters’ mission is to “make the elderly happy,” and they understand that ensuring the residents are well-fed and as healthy as they can be at 90 are not enough. To keep the elderly happy means maintaining their dignity after they have lost their health, their independence, and in some cases, even their ability to interact with the world. The Home’s community gives the residents back their dignity. It allows them to be useful by giving residents the opportunity to contribute to the daily workings of their Home, by planting a vegetable garden, folding laundry, or putting on a movie every night. They are not merely cared for, to the best of their ability, the residents participate in their own care.
The Residents also support each other, greeting each other in the dining room, teasing and cheering on each other during the activities, and listening to each other’s stories. Community gives dignity to the dying, it feeds those who do not wish to eat and visits those imprisoned in their beds. The Sisters give the elderly dignity not only by blessing the poor, but also by ensuring that the poor have the opportunity to bless each other. As a final note, I suppose I should say something on vocation discernment. However, this summer was markedly devoid of visions, locutions, or even meaningful dreams, so that is just going to have to be a decision made another day.