Besides, I thought, not all women are searching for a new pattern of living, or want a contemplative corner of their own.
Gift from the Sea, p. 2.
In an earlier blog, I wrote that one of my summer reading choices this year consisted of returning as an elder to a book that I read as a young woman and later in my midlife years. I find that each time I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s words, fresh thoughts leap off the page and trigger new connections in my mind. The quote above is one of those instances.
Having spent almost seventy-two years as a woman, I agree that not all women are searching for a contemplative corner of their own. However, every woman who I know definitely needs that place where she can be still, listen to her inner voice, pursue her thoughts to conclusion, and be at peace. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for all.
Finding the quiet corner of one’s own becomes much more difficult as one ages, especially for those in assisted living or residential care environments. I do not write here about those assisted or residential spaces where private suites or rooms are the norm. The assisted living situation of a friend who I used to visit in the hills above Berkeley, California, consisted of a small apartment, with a living room looking out over the San Francisco Bay, a small kitchenette, bathroom, and separate bedroom. The main building was surrounded by walks and grounds with comfortable chairs amidst the greenery. What a contrast to the living situations of some of the women I visit regularly in our community!
Many aging individuals, because of a series of difficult decisions or circumstances, find they cannot afford dwellings like the one I described above. Rather, they live in assisted living or nursing home environments where they may be fortunate enough to have their own room with a private bath. The norm for most is to be in a two-bed room with a bathroom they share with others. In fact, often they have to leave their room and walk down the hall to a common bath.
I think of one of my “ladies,” Edna*, in her nineties. Often, I find her napping on her bed when I arrive to visit. She has a roommate who is bedridden for the most part and there is a curtain pulled between the beds, partially separating the two areas of the room. The hallway and the room are usually quiet and calm when I visit Edna, except when the loudspeaker announces which residents need to report to the nursing station, that a meal is being served, or other information. Even though she is in one of the least luxurious of the residential care facilities in the community, when Edna wants to go outside there is a veranda with a water feature in front and an area in the back with benches overlooking a park. When Edna wants to be in a quiet, reflective space, it is available to her.
Another facility I visit is a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, thus it is more hospital than residential. The halls always have patients in wheelchairs clustered around the nursing station or in a sun-filled passageway between units. There is some talk and other noise, but not at an irritating level. I always save my visit with Catherine for last, after I spend time with four or five others. When I enter her single room, it is like walking into a sanctuary. She keeps the light low and, even though the door must be left open, she has a curtain pulled between the entrance to the room and the living space. I do not know if it is the low light with the sun filtering softly through the window, the tidy and cheery space, or Catherine, who always greets me with warmth and a positive tone. Whichever – or the combination of all – this is truly a peaceful, contemplative corner of the facility. Catherine shared with me that members of the staff come in from time to time, just to sit in the soft atmosphere of the room. It is understandable that they would do so.
My friend Margaret has dementia and that is a blessing considering where she is a resident. A rehabilitation and nursing home, it is such a contrast to the others with which I am familiar. The room that she shares with another resident is smaller than any others I have seen, and, with the curtain pulled between the two beds, there is no space for a visitor even to sit comfortably. There is always noise and there is nowhere that Margaret, who is a very spiritual person, can say a quiet prayer or meditate in silence. I feel so helpless when I visit her, knowing that my friend, who has done so much for so many, is essentially condemned to endure in an environment that does not recognize and honor who she is – a truly gifted soul!
Each of these women find themselves – in Lindbergh’s words – in a new pattern of living. However, I am sure that it is far from what she meant with the words, a contemplative corner of their own.
*All names have been changed.
Lindbergh, A. M. (2005). Gift from the Sea (50th Anniversary Edition). NY: Pantheon Books.
Photo: Jnzl: Water lilies in large urn, Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery Singapore. On Flicker. Public Domain Mark 1.0.