A life that has been Marked. Marker G

I made a profound life discovery when I was sixteen years old. I haven’t intentionally kept it a secret; it’s just that I haven’t shared this finding with very many people, until now. I have been in the process of observation for many years. I am ready to share my hypothesis with the world.

Every person on earth either has (what I call Marker G) or does not. Either one possesses this marking trait, or they don’t. Somewhere along life’s journey, some people acquire it. Some people are more naturally prone to acquire Marker G much in the same way that some people are prone to obesity. However unlike obesity, Marker G is quite desirable. I think there might even be some medical benefits to being a carrier of the Marker G. The facial aging is much gentler on those with marker G. Also, stress related health problems are significantly lower in those with the marker. Things like high blood pressure, heart attacks and ulcers rarely affect people with a high G count. It seems to grow with age. I also discovered that the marking traits show up most prominent in the elderly. Sometimes it’s hard to discern if one carries the marker until he or she gets along in years.  After approximately 70, years of age, it seems to become obvious if one carriessMarker G. The older one is, the more easily this marker can be detected. I came about this amazing discovery quite by accident.

At sixteen, the world still seems ideal. There is a great optimism about life. The general assumption is that the things yet to be experienced in life, are good things. It was with this optimistic worldview that my friend and I decided to volunteer once a week at the 0ld folks home just a block down the street from our old town high school. We picked Mondays. So, for two years we met after school and walked to the local convalescent home. As it turned out, our volunteer services consisted mostly visiting and writing letters that were dictated by the elderly who for various reasons,  had lost the use of their hands.

I’ve never known a convalescent home to be a place the elderly aspire to live. It would be safe to say that this particular establishment gave legitimacy to the negative stereotype of such places. It was nevertheless, home to about one hundred souls. From the outside it looked like many other aging historic homes in the neighborhood. The sign, “Merry Haven” that hung outside, and the Wheel Chair accessible ramps were the only external clues that this was not a large single family resident. However, as I opened the front door, the smell that poured out was clue number two. My friend and I dubbed it “old people smell.” I’m still not sure what created the one of a kind aroma. I think it was an airy soup made with one part poor hygiene, two parts poor ventilation mixed with three parts budget cafeteria aroma, which I would venture to guess was manned by poorly paid cooks. The final clue we had stepped into the world of the less than fortunate was the appearances of the residence that called this place home. It was obvious these weren’t just your average old folks. Many of them were mentally disabled from varying degrees. I imagined it was the last stop for those without resources or advocates. The only folks here with normal mental capacity were severely physically disabled. These were the throw away of society.

The first time I walked in, I panned the room with my eyes. A couple people were in diapers, another clenching a baby doll. One was pacing back and forth speaking into the air a language all his own. Yet another sat rocking back and forth in a stationary chair while staring off into space. Many were toothless, most stinky. Had it not been for our naive resolve to be good Samaritans, and the fact that I was with my best friend, this place would have been the last place my fifteen-year-old frame would hang out. The truth is, at first these people kind of scared me. They were weird, certainly different than me.

Week after week Laura, and I would take one last breathe of fresh air before we opened the door to the old people smell of Merry Haven and began our volunteer adventure. We began to see past their aberrancy, and built relationships. Some were very happy to see us; some kept us at a distance. Some of the scowls softened over time, others did not.

I can appreciate that these folks could be in a rotten mood. Let’s face it, the atmosphere was depressing. One toothless bedridden lady became my mission. I kept chipping away at her with kindness, hoping to strike up a friendship. Something ugly oozed out of this woman’s being. She didn’t even have to talk; you could just feel it in the air. When she looked at me I could see the bitterness leak out of her eyes. I guess in my egocentric naivety, I thought if I could befriend her, maybe she would dispense a little cheer.

While talking with her one day,  she asked me to come closer. I moved in closer. She wanted me closer still, so I leaned over the rail of her hospital bed and brought my face within arms reach of her. She swung at me with speed you’d not expect in a place like this. She managed to punch me in the face then started laughing with indulgent gratification. I didn’t see it coming. It didn’t really hurt, well, except my feelings. There was no strength in her wrinkled old arthritis ridden hands. I left that day with my pride a little worse for the wear. I did however begin to ponder her depressed mental state.

Three doors down from the punching lady, was another memorable woman. Forever I will remember her name, Ida Cole. Her home was in the corner of the basement. Ida was also bed ridden. Ida’s legs stopped as stubs just above the knee. I never did ask her why. Her hands were crippled. Yet, somehow she managed to dab a little bright red lipstick on her lips every day. Due to her lost dexterity, she wasn’t able to stay within her lip line, but she carried herself with so much dignity, I hardly noticed. There was a softness to her appearance. Her wrinkles mapped a life worth of laugh lines, not scowls.

She was one of the extremely disabled that had full mental capacity. Her roommates however, were all in a vegetative state. I suppose they were put in the same room because they all needed the highest physical care. Ida couldn’t even look at her only personal possession,  a picture that hung above her bed, because her neck couldn’t cock that direction to see it. Instead she had a window view of nothing more than the overflowing green dumpster that sat outside in the dirty alley.

Every week I would sit by her bed and she would dictate a letter to a far off relative.  Laura and I would take turns being her scribe.  Talking about happy things as if she lived a normal life, I would marvel that she could even think of positive things to say. She would always include a line like, “these wonderful girls have come to help me write my thoughts to you.” Then, she always gave me a Hershey bar when we said our good bye. It was her way of saying, “thank you” and insuring that I would return again the next week. Ida left quite an impression on me. I marveled at how she always greeted us with a crooked lipstick smile because it seemed to me, if anyone had a right to be bitter, it was she.

I pondered how it was that people in the same situation could see the world so differently? I went to Merry Haven to give something, but instead I was given the most valuable of life lessons. It was over these two years that I had a front row seat to something straight out of heaven, Grace embodied. I witnessed that Ida’s life was marked by Grace with a capital G. Marker G.

Grace, when given to another is known by  unmerited favor. When resting on a life it shows up as effortless beauty. This shell of a woman was so full of grace that I could almost find myself envying her. That is pretty powerful given Ida’s condition and circumstances. Certainly, I was drawn to her. I knew that somewhere along the journey of her life, she closed the door to bitterness and let Grace come in. It had been growing in her for years. Something beautiful oozed out of this woman’s being. She didn’t even have to talk; you could just feel it in the air. When she would look at me I could see both brokenness and kindness leak out of her soul. I began to ponder her seemingly elevated mental state.

In all my musings, I began to notice that by the time folks are elderly, there are some things that really stand out. It seems like aspects of their personality are exaggerated. At Merry Haven the sweet ones were oh so very sweet and the mean ones were oh so very mean. For instance, Ida seemed to be insulated by a bubble of love that kept the circumstances around her from causing her to live in a place of discouragement. In the same manor, a lifetime of bitterness was not easily hidden from the lives of others. I generally can’t tell just by looking at the elderly if they’ve had a rough life. I surely cannot tell just by looking at someone if they were dealt a hand of sorrow or blessing. However, if one spends time in relationship, I am convinced that most folks can usually discern if someone has made it a habit to hold on to the offenses life can bring.

The busyness of life and all ones possession are great distractions from the state of the soul. But when all is said and done and one is left sitting with literally nothing but a little more time on this earth, bitterness shows itself. It was pretty obvious to this small town fifteen year old. A lifetime of unforgiveness was as easy to see as skin color.

When my best friend’s family moved away, I recruited another kindred spirit to join me in this volunteer adventure.  Margo became Laura’s successor and my new partner in crime.  Margo made friends quickly both at school and at Merry Haven.

There is one more lady I want to tell you about. Her name was Rose. Sometimes she would have us write letters for her. She was never overly friendly, but didn’t shoo us away and certainly never took a swing at me. It was hard to tell if she wanted us around or if she was just tolerating us. I suppose we chose to believe the former because we continued to visit her week after week.

On this particular occasion, we walked into Rose’s room only to find her lying in bed completely unresponsive. She seemed to be in a vegetative state. Normally Rose was sitting in a chair or walking around. There were no physical clues that she was home in that body except the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. We continued to visit her, but she never again opened her eyes. We didn’t know if she could hear us or not.

One day, my friend went to visit Rose without me.  Margo shared with Rose about the Love of God. She prayed a prayer and invited Rose to agree along in her heart if she wanted to. It was a prayer about letting go of all the things we wish we could do over. It was a prayer of accepting the atonement of a Holy, Loving God. It was a prayer to become marked by Grace. At that moment, a tear dropped from the corner of Rose’s eye. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I think perhaps unmerited favor found a home in Rose that day. Marker G. The very next day, she was gone. She had died.

I came face to face with Grace and bitterness at Merry Haven. I saw that both have the power to shape ones countenance. Both grow with age, but when they are ripe in years, leave very different footprints on the lives around them. I discovered that both forgiveness and bitterness have very little to do with the circumstances of one’s life. They have everything to do with our response to the  difficult circumstances that life on earth can bring. There is a Grace that is so powerful that the worst of circumstances can’t dislodge it. Grace made itself known to me because it emanated from the life of a feeble, crippled, deformed, soft-spoken lady with crooked lipstick. It spoke of a peace in the storm, a joy within the sorrow, and a hope in destiny beyond this world.

When from time to time I face offenses or difficult circumstances, I often think of those old folks.  I look in the mirror and check to see whether my daily decisions  are fostering  the beginnings of laugh or scowl lines.   I take inventory of what is that oozes from my own soul.    I admit, some days I really need a do over.    That is precisely why I am so fond of Grace.

I’d love to hear about the grace you have seen in the lives around you.   If you are up for it, you can share with  me and my readers  your own experiences of how  your life has been touched by Grace in my comment section.

6 Responses to “A life that has been Marked. Marker G”
  1. pa Joe says:

    WOW,,,,,,You and the cupcake lady have been blessed, by being a blessing to those who appear to have been discarded. The insight and moulding of your faith that began at an early age,is a blessing again to others, your blog is a read that shows His light still shines…..

  2. jojo says:

    Thank you Lor, what a great story. I have adopted this line for my life, “I look in the mirror and check to see whether my daily decisions are fostering the beginnings of laugh or scowl lines.”

    It was you who first told me “His mercies are new every morning.” So why do we carry a grudge from my yesterdays? I have come to see that, for me, choosing to hold on to offenses is truly saying that the miracle of Christ dying and rising again, just wasn’t enough.

    I remember meeting Rose and I remember the smell but most of all, I remember giving much thought as to why my sister went there. You inspired me. I tell Jeffrey all the time, “I love old people.” I just do, they are a treasure box of wisdom and such strong personalities. But, I must admit, my own definition of ‘old people’ has sauntered a little further down the line as my years forge on.
    Thanks lolo

  3. Gloria Wlasiuk says:

    Lori… I love your quote: “Peace in the storm, joy within the sorrow, and hope in a destiny beyond this world”. We are living through our life storms at this time. Because of our Lords grace, and love for us we are enjoying , peace, comfort and joy inspite of it. …. I keep learning more about you every day Lori. I highly recommend this in book form. Love Mom.

  4. Margaret says:

    Lori, I read my first blog of yours and I am hooked! Sign me up!
    I especially love your perspective on ageing. Most of my life, my mom has card for elderly people and frequently we have gone to work with her to meet some of her “friends”. Almost as frequently, I have thought that the essence of a person becomes more concentrated the older they grow.
    Your thoughts on grace are beautiful and inspiring. You remind me that it is never worth it to hang onto resentment.

  5. Edie Conners says:

    Lori I can’t say enough good things about this story. You certainly have a way with words. Maybe because I turned 70 on your adorable daughter’s birthday this June of 2011 and am thinking of the day I may have to go into a nursing home. If that happens I pray the Lord blesses me with a lovely volunteer like you, that I will be her Ida, and she will see the Mark of G on my forehead. My mantra has always been that, “life is what you make it” and God has surely blessed me for my choices have mostly left me with laugh lines I hope. If it is o.k. with you, I would like to print this story and read it to my United Methodist Women’s group. It is so touching and inspiring that it needs to be shared with more women my age. Keep up the writing and I hope that someday you will publish these stories. You truly have a beautiful soul. Love, Auntie Edie

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