Saturday, August 1, 2009

My job? Swing dancing with 70 year olds, and I LOVE it.

I'm volunteering at a senior center this summer, and I never thought getting into it that it would end up being the most meaningful thing I've ever done.

I've only ever had one paying job, last summer at an art studio. I didn't like it much, but I figured it was money, work experience, and something to do. My last volunteer job was at the library, and I mostly shelved books and prepared crafts for the preschool story time. I really liked that because I love libraries and like looking at books and organizing them. During the summer, I was a "reading buddy" and read with elementary school kids, which I liked even more. That was all nothing compared to what I'm doing now.

Today a guy asked me to dance with him. This was was the first time I've danced in front of a room full of people. He was 70 years old, and it was a Sinatra song. He calls me "Miss America" and sings that line of the song when I walk into a room, just like my grandfather does. I made him smile, I made him laugh, and that was only one person and one day.

Most of the people there have dementia, most in their early stages. On the first day, the nurse there gave me a run-down of all the participants and what they used to do when they were young. Some were teachers, soldiers, tennis players, doctors, lawyers. I look around and see all these people who can't remember what year it is, can't walk, some can't talk. I've shed tears just by looking around the room, but then I make eye contact with someone, smile and wave, and the smile they give me back makes me so happy. It's bittersweet, but making these people smile is such a rewarding thing for me.

I get to speak Spanish to the hispanic ladies. I tease the guy who gets real competitive when he plays dominoes. I convince the guy who sits by the door waiting to go home to come out and join the group. I dance around all silly and get everyone motivated when the music comes on. I know how everyone takes their coffee. I know not to be offended when certain people yell at me. When I imagine how scary it must be to be to suddenly forget where you are and what you're doing there, I feel like they should be yelling at me more.

This one guy, he's awesome. Just the way he talks. He said the other day "People are like good liquor. They get better with age." Well he always sits with this one lady who can't do much on ther own anymore and always holds her hand. He always looks at her meaningfully, and the other day, I noticed her looking back at him the same way. She kissed him on the hand. I got all teary. It was so sweet, but it came with that sadness of real, truth that imparts a little more wisdom than I had before. To counter it, it fills me with an overwhelming happiness and sense of purpose that I've never experienced before.

I look forward to going there, and I love staying late to see the looks on their faces when their family comes to get them after the day is over. I have so much to think about at the end of the day. I'm learning more from this than I would from any extra credit college class I could have taken.

"When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so that when you die, you're smiling and everyone around you is crying."



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