H was a quirky, sharp-tempered old woman that I used to go see more or less weekly in her nursing home.
She was one of the most wretched old people I think I’ve ever met. She disliked most of her fellow inmates, rarely allowed herself to be wheeled out of her room, struggled against suffocation many times each day, endured constant pain, and was unbearably lonely.
Oh, and she didn’t even like chocolate.
However, one day I came into her room and H was in a cheery mood, almost smug, in fact.
“I’ve been taking care of that woman across the hall,” H told me, smiling. “She’s not quite right in her head, and she’s been crying all the time. So I just sat by her and held her hand, and that seemed to calm the poor thing down.”
Well, she said something like that. I’m not going to try to reproduce H’s broken Finnish English.
For that hour, H was almost full of herself. She was pleased to have found someone more miserable than her, and more than that – she was happy to finally have a Role. In a nursing home, they’re the Carers, you’re the Cared For. Their reason to be there is you. Your reason to be there is…is….
It made me think how destructive it can be, to be the Helped. If you help someone, they need you, you’re needed, you’re someone. If they help you, without recompense, all you are is grateful. We shouldn’t be too surprised when the eternally grateful go and burgle houses, just to feel a little better about their place in life.
(and here is a little story for dessert – http://livinginfairyland.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/why-the-great-wall-of-china-is-made-of-rice/)