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Novel Way to Get People Together

All my life I've dreamed of making a match, a shiduch. This year, in the middle of my seventh decade, I succeeded. Sort of. I am a volunteer in a Jewish nursing home. Each week I conduct a group discussion with the residents. We talk about many things. A new resident, Robert, a widower, had just moved in and joined our group for the first time. We were talking about books.

"What's your favorite book?" I asked to open the general discussion. My group is usually quite reticent when I ask questions like this, but this week was different. Robert raised his hand. "Don Quixote," he said. Don Quixote, I thought to myself, what an unexpected reply. "And why that book, Robert?" "Well," he answered, "in Don Quixote one can find all the fundamentals of democracy, and although it was written over five hundred years ago, it also foresaw many of the developments in democracy through the centuries." I was taken aback.

"And do you have a second favorite book," I asked. Huckleberry Finn was Robert's reply. "Can you explain why, Robert?" "We'll," he answered, "in Huckleberry Finn we have a young lad and an older slave on a journey toward freedom. In Don Quixote we have an older man and his younger servant on a quest to restore certain values to the world. Both books remind us of what a life worth living should look like."

Moved by Robert's replies which were stated so clearly and so modestly, I toyed with the idea of asking him what his third favorite book might be, but I held off.

After the group I went up to him and asked him if he had been a professor of literature. "No," he replied, "I was a doctor and one of the generation of pediatricians that founded the field of neonatology." Not only was Robert a thoughtful and accomplished person, but in the way he spoke, a very modest one too. He won my heart.

The nursing home in which I volunteer has seven floors. My discussion group takes place on the seventh floor where the most mentally and physically intact residents live. I also conduct a group activity on the third floor. I think of the people living there more as patients than as residents because they require full time supervision and their movement within the home is restricted. A new person, Jenny, had recently moved in. Charming and warm, elegant, with a twinkle in her eye and a disarming smile, she didn't seem to fit the mold of the people on this floor. A widow and mother of three, she had been a nurse in her working life. I asked the social worker why Jenny was on this floor. She told me that Jenny was suffering from a mild incipient form of memory loss and felt comfortable and cared for there. I sensed that she was in the wrong place and a more challenging environment would do her good. Apparently, the powers that be agreed and a few weeks later Jenny was moved four floors up.

The following week I was leading my usual discussion group on the seventh floor. Robert was there and the chair next to him was empty. Jenny came in and, quite by chance, took that seat. A very bright light went on in my mind. Oh, my God, it's a perfect match! After group I went up to Robert and asked if he had formally met Jenny. No, he hadn't. I then asked Jenny if she knew Robert. No, she didn't. And then I did something very out of character for me. I leaned down and whispered into Robert's ear, "Robert, Jenny is a most wonderful woman. She has wonderful qualities. Talk to her. You'll see." I gathered up my materials and a few minutes later, on my way out, I took a peek back. Robert was regaling Jenny, and Jenny was listening in a most attentive way.

A week later, when I came to my group meeting, there were Jenny and Robert sitting side by side. I was happy to see it. The nursing home provides little opportunity for people to get to know one another. Although there are TV stations on the floor, there are very few sitting places where people can just quietly talk. There are no game rooms where people can play Scrabble or cards. There's nowhere to go for a cup of coffee. Although the residents of the seventh floor have the freedom of the facility, other than visiting the library or sitting in the garden, there isn't much to do. In such a setting, therefore, the chances of a deepening relationship are slight.

Robert and Jenny now sit side by side each week in my discussion group. And I've been told they participate together in other activities too. It's good to know. Time will tell how their friendship will develop, if at all, and in what form. I do have the feeling, though, that I made a connection, a match, a shiduch of sorts.

And, yes, I did finally ask Robert, in a private conversation after group discussion one week, what his third favorite book might be. Without a moment's hesitation he answered, "Madame Bovary." Another classic. Would one have expected anything less?



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Saturday, 13 July 2024

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