If there's ever a way to get out of the muck and mire of depression, I say it is putting yourself in the middle of a circle of elderly people (preferably with Alzheimer's Disease) and read poetry to them and listen to their stories.
That is what I did today and not because I was just depressed (this is what January has done to me) but because I am part of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project - Wisconsin Director. I forget how good I feel after each "gig." Gary Mex Glazner, founder and poet/performer extraordinaire, enchanted me into being a part of this. I had worked with Alzheimer's residents at an assisted living home and had quit because I wore my heart on my sleeve and I just couldn't watch them suffer toward the end. Gary had this idea: go to different residential centers and read and PERFORM INTERACTIVELY classic poetry - poetry they might have known as a child or young adult. Often times, a few lines of Robert Burns, for example, might spur a memory. I remember one woman who knew many of the poems I read who said that when she had Rheumatic Fever at the age of seven she memorized poem after poem in a thick book in her bedroom.
Today was a less-than-great day, but I didn't have much to complain about health-wise, for a change. After work, I wanted to go straight home, but I had to go to this assisted living center for a gig. Dutifully, I went. God had plans for me.
There were around eight people sitting in the living room waiting for me. I introduced myself and found myself conversing more with them than I usually do (I always converse with them, but this time felt more leisurely) and I got to know them before I started the poetry. Usually, one or a few of the old-timers are dubious, eyeballing me: "Poetry? Really? Um, not for me, thanks," but all of these folks seemed joyful and excited to hear some poetry. So I started.
They were a lively bunch. They loved participating in the "action" poems, like "The Arrow and the Song" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (shooting the pretend arrows) and being "the wind" for the wintry poem, "Blow, blow thou winter winds." They whistled and howled and shushed. It was quite a performance.
A miracle was performed. I was called a "magic woman" by the nurse. I made a man sing. Let me explain.
Bill was a man slipping in and out of sleep during my gig. He'd pay attention when I would go around and ask individual questions. He was in the air force long ago, had a beautiful wife. He wasn't a talker. I was asking each of them what reminded them of winter (to compose an on-the-spot poem for them later) and after I got my answers, I heard a rich baritone begin: "O beautiful for spacious skies..."
Now Gary taught me that whenever someone breaks out in spontaneous song that I should go with him or her and see where it takes us. Well, I started singing along and soon the whole group was singing a spirited rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." The nurse who was filling medications looked at Bill, then at me, and said, "he never talks!" Her eyes were huge. "You are a magic woman."
More miracles happened: when asking them what the most beautiful thing they had ever seen was, none of them gave material answers, like "flowers," "my grandkids," or such answers as I usually hear. Instead, one woman pointed to me and said, "what you are doing." One woman said, "people helping each other." Another woman said, "my nurse."
And miracle of all miracles, one woman - Hazel - said, "that I'm able to know that I'm here."
Wow. Now isn't that poem/praiseworthy?
As I circled the group, shaking hands and thanking them for their time, they erupted in, "Come back soon!" and "we loved having you!"
And I intend on returning. Maybe in springtime and I'll read warm, flower-laden poetry. I pray that each of them are still there. In the meantime, I praise each of them, each individuals, each unique and special. I'm so grateful I was able to see such lights shine. I realized why I do this: so that I know it's not just me out there. I can do things that make a difference.
On the way home, driving across white expanses of farmland, I heard the song, "In My Own Little World" by Matthew West. The lyrics spoke to me.
What if there’s a bigger picture
what if I’m missing out
What if there’s a greater purpose
I could be living right now
outside my own little world
Today I got out of my own little world. Today we were "population: us."
Today, do something good for someone else.