Back at the Memory Care Center, Pam and I arrived with a list of residents to visit. The list contained an interesting entry Room 123 Admiral Hyde (not actual room number or name). As we approach the room the door is open and so we knock and walk in. An elderly man is lying in bed with the television on in the background although I don’t think that he was really watching it. “Hello, my name is Richard and Fr. Jacobsen asked if we would stop by to say hello to you, this is Pam” but before I could finish the sentence the elderly man cut in “Are you from Tennessee?”, “No I’m not are you?”, “Born and raised there, where are you from?”, “I’m from the England” I responded. “Great place, been there many times” the man said. “My list says that you are an Admiral, was you in the navy?” (aside: sometimes I do ask the most stupid of questions). “Yes I was, Admiral of the fleet. Are you from Tennessee?” As I reflect I remember in all honesty doubting that this man was an Admiral of the US Navy and I was beginning to form an opinion about him.
As the conversation moved on I realized that you could hold a normal conversation for about two minutes and then everything started again with “Are you from Tennessee?” I started to look around the room for something to talk about, to create a link to. Sure enough on the far wall was a painting of a very handsome looking sailor in an officer’s uniform. I asked if it was him, and if it was ok to go across and look. As I got closer, I realized that this was a painting of a high ranking naval officer and there it was – the inscription underneath. Admiral James Hyde, USN. The painting was hanging in the corner of the room and next to it on the wall was a display of medals and pins from every one of the Admiral’s postings. He had commanded many ships, ran Pearl Harbor and was indeed an Admiral of the United States Navy.
Standing there I felt a mixture of being ashamed and very unworthy of the task that I was meant to be doing. I realized in that moment that I had fallen into the trap of doubting before believing.
Aging can have savage effects on us. It transforms us on the outside and sometimes on the inside into something that makes the former self barely recognizable. As a young upstart I think of how often have I discounted to some degree the experience, sacrifice, love, pain, joy and so much more of someone that I am in pastoral relationship with because of their age or physical condition. I need to be reminded of the promises made in the Baptismal Covenant especially “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” to which I respond “I will with God’s help.” Today I pray for God’s help.
Senior care is a humbling ministry, full of richness. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to serve in this capacity. Today I made the mistake of making assumptions and being eager to judge. I pray that I have learnt from this and this will be a lesson never to be forgotten.
Admiral Hyde is a hoot. He is full of joy. Sure we keep coming back to Tennessee but in between I am in the presence of a hero.