SAUCIER — Song of Ascents


“Out of the depths I call to you, Lord; Lord hear my cry.”

I thought of Psalm 30 when we were visiting Carolyn’s 99-year-old father at his Utah nursing home. It was sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem. What could be sung from a wheelchair in assisted?

It is a hard place. The odors are offensive. The diminished mental state of many is sad. The confinement to bed and chair is disturbing.

We want the years of Methusaleh, if we’re assured of our health, an active mind and an independence that allows us to stay at home and behind the wheel. But there are no guarantees.

My father-in-law is still sharp and his memory is better than mine. On the debit side, he is not ambulatory, practically deaf, and his speech slurred beyond comprehension by most. He tires easily, sleeps a lot, and his nearest family is two states away.

He’s bored at times, but not unhappy. He looks forward to the dining room though he can’t converse with others and aspirates on solid food.

He goes to daily Mass. His poor hearing forgives the homily and the same two hymns. Sitting up front, he follows the ritual, mouths the appropriate prayers, and reverently takes Holy Communion.

The eldest in an elderly group, residents fondly call him “Grandpa.” They never really talk, but more than familiar faces or fellow inmates, they are friends and neighbors.

When Grandpa rolls down the hall, those neighbors hold out their hands to lightly brush his as he passes. Shriveled, bony fingers momentarily touching is more than a greeting — it is a sacrament of care and a common life.

There’s the German Anna and young Mary with her MS. There’s blind Arturo and Howard the former marine. There’s Norma the football fan and the Japanese lady Tayeko.

They each have their own stories, but share a final chapter. Imprisoned in age and disease, totally dependent, they have surrendered all physical dignity. But if you watch them, talk to them, do the slightest thing to help them, you see a spiritual dignity that binds them in respect, in gratitude, and acceptance of their lot.

As they sit waiting for dinner which won’t start for an hour, I wonder if the same song of ascents of the pilgrims could be on their aged lips:

“I wait with longing for His Word. My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak,” (Psalm 130 5-6).