Wednesday December 21.
My thirteenth day at Monroe Village

Today I went out for a walk. It wasn’t a very long walk – just from the Health Care entrance to the Main entrance – maybe 5-10 minutes. Its warm for this time of year, in December. The aids were in the process of attending to my mom – changing her bedding, giving her a sponge bath and a clean gown. All of this involves moving her. And moving her the slightest bit makes her scream out in pain. They are very kind and try to work fast. The first few days I was here, I stayed with my mom, talking to her, trying to comfort her while they worked on her. But now I can’t. I leave and usually go sit in the hallway. But today I decided to go outside, into the sunshine, no coat, just my indoor clothes. There was very little wind and the sun was very bright. I walked along the white curving sidewalk, green grass on both sides and the landscaped scenery all around me. I stand up straight, taking long, slow strides, feeling the fresh air surrounding me, up close against me, the sun on my face. I even hummed a bit as I walked. The image of Julie Andrews on her mountain top in the Sound of Music crossed my mind. I felt alive.

As I came up to the Main entrance, there were two residents sitting on the bench waiting for the jitney bus to take them shopping. The woman hailed me and asked me how my mom was doing. I told her “not well”. We spoke for awhile about the inevitability of life. And the conversation ended with, “Oh well. What can you do?” I said goodbye and headed inside.

I walked past the concierge’s big desk by the front doors and said a cheerful hello to Terry. She’s the concierge here and I imagine her as the spider in the net. If you need to know anything, you go first to Terry. If she doesn’t know she knows who to send you to who does know. I tell her its a beautiful day outside. She agrees and we discuss the strangely warm weather for awhile. She asks about my mom and I tell her “still the same” then wish her a good day and continue on my way.

I keep walking till I get to the start of the hallway up to Health Care. There, I bump into Candy. She’s the one who stands at the entrance to the dining room and assigns tables to residents coming in for dinner. I give her a friendly hello and she asks how my mom is doing. She tells me how much she liked my mom. We stand and talk for awhile and I tell her how I think that everyone here at Monroe Village has been so friendly and helpful. As she leaves she turns back to me and says that if I want to come down to eat in the dining room to just come down and she will make sure I get dinner. I thank her and tell her she’s a doll and I really appreciate it.

Finally I arrive back in my mom’s room. I sit by her bed, thinking – trying to determine what is it that I have learned about life in these 60 years I’ve been practicing it.

I think back to when I worked as a cashier in the admissions department of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. I was in my early 20s and I was one of those people that sat at the admissions cash registers where you paid in order to enter the museum. I discovered a really strange phenomenon back then. On those days when I came into work in a really bad mood, every single person that came up to my cash register that day was really obnoxious to me – mean, nasty, rude, you name it. And, on those days when I came in to work in a great mood – happy and cheerful – that day everyone who came up to my register to pay their entrance fee was so nice and friendly to me.

Flash forward to the mid 80s. I have just been hired to work as a production manager on a big slide show for a company in NY. I come in to meet with the designer and rest of the staff. As I’m standing there talking with them, a short, husky guy with a handful of camera-ready artwork storms into the room yelling at someone about something. I am told that that is the cameraman who will be shooting all the artwork my team will be producing. I cringe in fear but decide that I am going to “nice” him to death. Two weeks later, halfway through the production, same said cameraman enters the production room with hands full of art, once again yelling at at least 3 different people as he makes his way through the room. And then he looks up, sees me, gives me a big smile and says “Hi Hilarie. I already shot all your work. The slides are on your desk”. Nicing worked.

I never was much of a country person. I escaped the landscapes of New Jersey for the towers of New York City as soon as I could. But I’ve come to love the countryside around our summer house at Stavsnäs. Sometimes as we drive the 45 minutes it takes to get there, the sky is grey and heavy with clouds. The landscape too seems grey and dreary, barely alive. But on other days, the sky is blue with a bright shiny sun spreading a brilliant glow over exactly the same scenery. The world seems so alive.

So this is the thing that I have learned. Like the sun making the world a more beautiful place; a kind word, a smile, a silly joke making people laugh also make the world a better place. And the people that you speak kindly to, smile at and make laugh give that back to you, triple-fold. And the world becomes a little bit brighter.

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