COLUMBIA — When I think of most cities, I think of traffic jams, 24-hour cycles of violent crimes, homeless people sleeping under bridges and in gutters and juvenile facilities jammed with throw-away children.
Most of the time I forget that some cities have facilities and organizations that once could only be found in small towns. And, unfortunately, some small towns have begun to neglect some things that once made them great places to live.
I thought a lot abut that subject last week when I heard from my first Sunday school teacher after more than three decades. She recently celebrated her 101st birthday. She lives alone in the inner city in a notoriously dangerous neighborhood. Mentally, she is sharper than most of the knives in anybody’s drawer. She remembers things from my childhood as well as events which happened last week. She has no children, and her closest relative lives in California. She is in good health, is physically active and never mentions being afraid.
How does she survive? Well, quite simply, really. She lives among people who remember community. These are people who understand the importance of taking care of one another. Members of her church and the neighborhood organizations around her have developed a very simple system. The older people who live alone check in with each other several times a day to make certain everyone is all right. In this way, my friend and her fellow citizens have carved out a niche in a deeply troubled environment to make it safe to be old.
I was impressed. This simple notion made me realize that this can be done in communities everywhere. I visit nursing homes where people are physically fit enough to remain in their own homes, but because they have no one to live with them or care for their needs, they are confined to nursing homes. What are many, many other people doing at the time? The answer is watching television or visiting social networks on the Internet looking for somebody to talk to.
In some communities, there is a church on every corner allegedly spreading the good news. Well, the good news is that there are many older people who could still be functioning positively in their neighborhoods but lack these wonderful church people and members of charitable organizations who stay at home everyday but can’t be bothered to spend a few minutes on the telephone checking on their neighbors.
Oh, and by the way, my friend’s church has a van that not only provides its older members with transportation to and from church but also takes them to the grocery stores and shopping centers to pick up their necessities. Of course, to most older people this sounds like a fairy tale. In good physical shape or not, they know that the next stop for them will be a nursing home.
Some of my friends who are pastors of churches wonder why attendance is falling off, especially among young people. I ask them if the young people whose presence they covet, have sense enough to know that they will not always be young and will one day be old and cast off to the nearest nursing home. Yes, I have been well-churched for most of my life, so I get to ask the hard questions.
One would think with all this controversy over health care reform, it would be a good time for Americans to think about the quality of our everyday lives. If we can believe what we read, the Scandinavian countries seem to spend more time insuring the things that matter, such as health care and education, while here in America we devote hours to political arguments which accomplish nothing, dwelling on fast cars to kill ourselves, manufacturing fast foods which jeopardize our health and building smart electronic toys that destroy our imaginations.
I heard a woman admit that she attended a three-hour seminar that was designed to provide her with helpful hints for doing her job quicker and more efficiently. The problem was that she couldn’t concentrate because her cell phone was vibrating. She worried about who was calling, and she felt that she had to check her iPod every few minutes. Consequently, she missed most of the class and had to ask a co-worker for assistance to fill out her evaluation form.
So I am delighted to report that my former Sunday school teacher has lived a long and fruitful life, loving and caring for others, and it is altogether fitting and proper that she still thrives in her 101st year.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.