Speaking To The Heart

Carlyn McAllister

© Copyright 2004 by Carlyn McAllister

It was a sleepy fall morning, when the air seems just cool enough to make you shiver and the brilliant colored leaves want to keep you outside forever. Bright sunlight filtered through to the ground and made the squirrels scurry even faster as they jumped through branches with piles of nuts for the approaching winter. Inside, I was hurrying as well, but not exactly as happily as the squirrels.

“Mom, remind me, where are we going?” I called into the kitchen as I brushed my hair, flossed my teeth and tried desperately to make up my bed all at the same time. I felt tired and irritable this morning – which is not unusual, except for the fact that this time I had somewhat of a reason. We were getting ready to go to a nursing home to visit elderly people, and although I admitted it was a nice thing to do, it wasn’t the way I would choose to spend my Sunday morning. But unfortunately these things aren’t always left up to me.

“Five minutes, girls, then we’re leaving,” Mom said while washing the breakfast dishes. I hastily buttoned Margaret’s dress and then got a ribbon for her hair. At seven years old, she was a fun younger sister to have, though sometimes it seemed like she was always in slow motion.

“Here, take these,” I said, shoving Margaret’s shoes into her hands while she hummed herself a song. I ushered her out the door, telling her we could put her on shoes while Mom was driving. Margaret didn’t even pause a moment in her song, but just nodded as we climbed into the car. It seemed like nothing could spoil her day.

Finally we were off, and I sat in the back, looking out a window. While we drove, for some reason my thoughts turned to melancholy ideas. I began thinking of my family and friends, and of what the future would hold for them. Instead of daydreams, I felt myself entering into an imagined scene. We were in the same car, going to the same nursing home; but the people we were visiting were my own family, my grandparents! They were old and weak, and must have been unable to live alone any longer. I saw their welcoming white farmhouse with black shutters completely empty and the front door bolted shut. The warm kitchen that used to hold such delicious smells and carefree laughter was now a hard silence. I was overcome as memories and feelings of the past began to wash over me. But the worst part was that my grandma and grandpa – they didn’t even know me. I stood looking into their eyes, holding their hands while their faces convinced me of the blankness I now felt inside. My mouth formed the words, “I love you,” but my heart knew they didn’t understand. The hurt I felt inside ran deep and cold…they were lost to me forever.

I jumped when I heard the car door open. I had been so involved in my imagination that I had completely lost track of time. We were here, at the nursing home, and it was the same beautiful fall morning. I held Margaret’s hand as we crossed the parking lot, fighting thoughts of profound sadness at my recent vision. It seemed so real. But I wanted to push it away, so I didn’t share my fears with anyone. Admitting it would seem too much like accepting it.

We came into the breakfast room – Margaret with a joyful look, and me with a forced smile. We sang songs and smiled, then sang more songs and kept on smiling. Afterwards we walked through the room, shaking people’s hands and telling them hello. Margaret walked up to a frail man in a wheelchair with a wrinkled shirt and started up a conversation. I had to admire her bravery.

Some of the patients were more conscious of our presence than others, and they would talk and laugh with us. If someone appeared asleep or simply mute we would give him a small touch on the hand or a pat on the shoulder and then go on to the others. There were many elderly ladies there that morning, and I remember one lady in particular who decided to let us know everything about her grandchildren. And I mean everything – from soccer games to scholarships to a dog named Sandy. It was a very educating experience.

After awhile we began to say goodbye and I scanned the room looking for Margaret. She was in the far corner, still talking with the same man! Well, that sounded like something Margaret would do – talk forever to someone until there was nothing left to talk about! I started walking over to get her, but I paused when I heard a comment by one of the nurses who was observing Margaret and her new friend.

“You know, he doesn’t even speak English.”

Oh, no! Margaret has been talking to someone in a language he doesn’t understand a word of. Not to mention the fact that he is old and disabled already – she probably hasn’t made any sense at all. I quickened my pace as I came to her and began to pull her away. And then I saw it.

It made me freeze and my mind spin. How could it be? There was no way to explain it.

He understood! I saw it in his face – his bright eyes, his crooked smile. He held her hand and patted it like it was the most precious thing in the whole world. He nodded his head when she talked and looked like he was enjoying every word immensely.

And right then I knew in my heart, it was true. There was a language that transcends barriers, that can pull apart the coldly-erected walls of old and young, weak and strong. It was the language of love, spoken to the heart. It was understood by all, could be given by all, and was embraced by all.

My fears of the future were quietly laid to rest as I saw Margaret and her foreign friend say goodbye. No matter what happened, surely there would be a way to communicate my care to my grandparents and with those I loved. I walked back out into the sunshine, taking a deep breath of the autumn air. A bright orange leaf dancing in the breeze caught my attention. It soon glided to a stop on the ground, joining the other dazzling-colored leaves that created a lush carpet underneath a tall oak tree. Yes, I thought, change would surely come, but the most important things in life should never have to change.

“Those people are so nice,” Margaret remarked to me as we headed home again. “I think when we go back that old man will remember me.”

And she is probably right. Because words are only so much…it’s where you speak them that makes all the difference.

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