Average Jane

They never remember – But I’ll never forget

In Judaism there are levels of giving  — the highest of which is completely anonymous. When no one knows you’ve given, and you get absolutely no credit.

But for the purposes of this post, I am going to have to be all “look what I did.”  But only for a second.

This past Sunday I volunteered at a nursing home. Initially, it was advertised as working in the Alzheimer’s wing at their Holiday Party. I was really excited. One thing I learned from my last horrific job was that while the medical profession works so hard to keep people alive, they neglect the fact that living is more than physical life. That when the mind goes but the body survives, there becomes a gap. The penultimate second childhood of Shakespearian fame.

Anyway, knowing that these old folks are alone at the holidays (even though it’s not *my* holiday), I had to go be there. To help out. EVEN knowing that they wouldn’t know who I was, or even that I was there to help. I spent the first hour or so feeding the residents jello, ice cream, and chicken wings. Not just preparing plates, but helping them eat. We all know my propensity to “mother” adults… but this wasn’t the same. This was mothering my parents. My grand parents, really. It was sad. Sad that they were alone. Sad that they were helpless. Sad that they were drooling and screaming and cursing.

But there was joy. There was Mr. Halloway, the former jazz pianist who sang along with the guy playing christmas songs. The man who spilled jello all down his pants but then asked to go over to the piano where he took requests, muddling his way through songs he could once play flawlessly, effortlessly. And there was our guide, D. He knew every one of the residents names. He knew where they were from and about their families. He talked to them as though they had no ailment at all. He made me wonder if they were still “in there”. He made me believe that they were.

After our time on the Alzheimer’s Unit, we moved around to some other parts of the hospital. That’s where I met her.

She was in a wheel chair in the hallway. Long blonde hair. Bright orange lipstick hiding the few teeth she had left in her mouth. She had a book in her hand, a smile on her face. I was afraid to talk to her, since I didn’t know her mental state. Would we be able to communicate? Was she in there? I sucked it up. I put on my fear-of-the-future brave pants and made my introduction.

Her name is Arville. Arville Chrystler.* (Pronounced “AR-vul”) She said it just like that. And then spelled it. “No one ever remembers my first name so they all call me Ms. Chrystler.” I’ll remember, I told her. I repeated her name. “That’s right! You got it! No one ever gets it and you got it!” She was radiant. Her fractured smile beaming from beneath her beaming and fractured lipstick. I told her that I couldn’t forget a name that unique and beautiful. I asked where she was from. She said she was from Minnesota, but that had nothing to do with her name. “I was named after my grandmother. But I think she wasn’t Arville. I think she was Arvella. But I don’t know.” Another volunteer came over. We went through the name game again. She asks the question I was afraid to ask myself… “Do you have any kids, Arville?”


She said she never had kids, but, she said, she just loves them so much. She was married once for one year, but never had kids. My heart sunk. She was so alone. But she was happy. I quipped that her bachelorettehood was the key to her longevity. But all she wanted to hear about were the two small children at the holiday party we had been at before. A woman with so much love who never got to share it with children of her own. I’m absolutely positive that she shared it with everyone she met, though. She certainly shared it with us that day.

When it was time to move on to the next unit, I had the hardest time saying “goodbye”. I wanted to stay with Arville. I wanted her wisdom. I wanted her warmth. It was so selfish. She thanked us profusely for stopping by. Said it made her day.

Arville didn’t impart any great wisdom on me that day (except that it’s OK not to finish a book you start if you hate it) but I’ll never forget her. Her legacy may not be tangible… but her legacy is her life and the way she lived it… the way she’s living it. With a smile on her face, a book in her hand, and her heart on her sleeve.

*I can use her name because I don’t think anyone will be looking for her. But if you are looking for her, please be in touch. She has very little family and is an absolute gem. 


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  1. * jess says:

    that is a lovely story! i really admire that about judaism. being raised catholic, i was taught a weird ‘me me me’ thing about volunteering of any kind. but this was a story to be shared because it’s about what we are lucky to feel at this time of year — how we can help others when we are gifted with a big heart. 🙂

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  2. * Laundro says:

    That’s awesome.

    I volunteered for 4 years during my teenage years at the Hebrew Home in Rockville. I think I had to do one year for Hebrew School, but I kept doing it. It was the most satisfying work I have ever done.

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  3. * Arjewtino says:

    Tzedakah is actually the second highest form of charity. Still, well done.

    To be fair, we are both wrong. Tzedakah is actually translated as “charity” so therefore there are levels of Tzadakah, but you are right in saying that what I did was #2. #1 is allowing the other party to be come self-reliant. In the case of helping at the nursing home, that was not possible. But I stand corrected.

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 6 months ago

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