Often we assume that once dementia sets in a person loses the capacity for wisdom. We think that folks with dementia are simply befuddled, disoriented and they tell the same stories over and over again. Yes, that is often true – but not categorically! I’d like to share an example.
Recently I was in my office tying up the loose ends of my day. One of our residents who has dementia stopped by my office. She does this often and I enjoy her visits. This particular afternoon I was about to leave and so I mentioned to her that I wouldn’t be able to talk long. Always respectful, she responded, “Then I won’t get started because my stories are never short” (she’s right). As she was leaving the office she turned, looked at me and said, “Thank you for being.”
“Thank you for being.” What a profound and wise statement. So often we thank people for what they do, our gratitude is performance oriented. “Thank you for your kind words.” “Thank you for opening the door for me.” “Thank you for bringing the casserole.” Even in our relationship with God our gratitude is almost always given for something we believe God has done for us.
But this gem of wisdom, “Thank you for being” is incredibly rare and so important. Last article I addressed the matter of dignity, “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect”. Dignity, like gratitude is very often attached to performance. But the Christian Faith teaches something very different. It teaches “being” is reason enough to be grateful. “Thank you for being” is quite a wonderful way of expressing that. With no thought for who I am, what my background or education might be, what I have contributed or accomplished; “That you for being” focuses simply on my existence. The fact that I exist, that I am, is grounds enough for gratitude.
Human gratitude to God is almost always based on the perception that God has “blessed” or “been good” to us. But wouldn’t gratitude for the fact that God is, be much more appropriate. God’s existence, at least in the Christian scheme of things, is eternal and the reason for the existence of everything else that exists. The one who does not change, exists and that should cause gratitude to explode from our hearts.
Because we are created in his image (again this presumes a Christian world view) a similar gratitude ought to be shown for each other. We should not expect gratitude to be earned by performance, we ought to be grateful for each other simply because “we are”. Such an attitude would resolve the myriad of prejudices that divide us. If I were grateful for the existence of all others, regardless of their race, religion, politics, socio-economic standing I would have to stop looking at anyone as better than or worse than myself. I would have to begin to see each person as having equal standing based on just one criterion: “being”.
Now I know that this seems impossible, everything in our world screams, “We are not the same, we are not equal, we are different, some are better and others are worse!” But look where those screams have gotten us: we hate, we are envious, we show favoritism, we neglect, we hurt and kill and we justify it all in the name of the illusion that we are not the same, our very essence and being are not the same.
It happens everywhere: in schools, in business, in sports, in churches, in health care – literally everywhere. But I challenge you: don’t look to your left or right, just look at yourself and ask, what would it mean for me to begin being grateful for the fact that the people in my life simply are? As I hear those words, “Thank you for being.” I am challenged.
Chaplain's Corner was written by Bethesda Place now retired chaplain Larry Hirst. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the writer and do not represent the views or opinions of people, institutions or organizations that the writer may have been associated with professionally.