Originally written 2012.
I am blessed to spend time with my 7 year old grandson Cooper and we have such good times together. He visits me often at my apartment and he loves my attached business office and all that surrounds it. He helps me take care of business too, such as locking the outer doors to the building at 5 pm and keeping an eye on the monitors to see what’s going on in different areas of our building. All the residents know him and love him and he’s getting to know all of them, and they are a diverse and interesting group of people. We share our building with about 100 residents including Oriental people, black people, white people, and Hispanic people, and we have a few who are missing a limb, and a few whose mind works a little more slowly than others. We have musicians, cooks, bakers, factory workers, college professors, schoolteachers, caregivers, hairdressers, and bus drivers, just to name a few professions. The one thing they all have in common is their age. They must be 55 or older to live in this building and there are some who are much older and still living independently. One will celebrate her 100th year of life when November blows in this year. She’s in excellent health so I expect her to be present for her birthday party on that special day.
We also have some handicapped folks who call this home. They might not have been handicapped when they first came to live here, but life seems to collects its’ toll from each of us in time. They may suffer a stroke, or perhaps injure themselves when they fall, or maybe their heart fails to beat normally, and then they have to face life in a different way. As manager of this building I see them from my office window as they pass by and there is almost always a difference in their demeanor, their joy, and their confidence. Swimming in an ocean of pain day after day or maneuvering a body that no longer obeys commands will begin to erode the happiness and self-confidence of most. However, there are always a few whose personal power triumphs and I find those few to be remarkable spirits, resilient and resourceful. I wish we could all drink from the well they are drinking from because it gives them the strength to accept their limitations and still feel whole and fulfilled.
Cooper sees all of these folks and I think at some deep level he understands the lives that are lived behind apartment doors. One weekend he spent his usual Friday night with me and most of the next day. We were actually pushing open the front door of the building at about 8 pm on a Saturday night, laden with his backpack, suitcase, books, and toys. A resident came rushing up to us urgently repeating my name, “Eleanor! Eleanor!” I looked at him and asked, “Is this an emergency?” “Yes, yes, it is!” he replied breathlessly. “There’s a lot of water running down the bathroom wall in my apartment. Mary lives on the third floor and her toilet’s broken and it’s leaking lots of water, all the way down to my apartment on the first floor…and she might need a doctor… she fell in her bathroom and she’s not doing so well.”
“Okay! Thank you! I’ll look into it right now.” I looked down at Cooper who was holding my hand and we turned around and came back into the building and headed for the elevator. In the elevator I told him “Okay, Cooper, we’re going upstairs to see what’s going on and then we’ll go home after that, okay?” He was wide-eyed and quietly, seriously nodded his head that he understood.
We rode the elevator to the third floor with the backpack, suitcase, books, and toys. We got off and walked down D wing and found Mary’s door standing open. I parked Cooper outside the door and slightly down the hall so he would be out of the way of foot traffic that would most likely be coming and going. I opened a book for him and gave him a toy and said, “You sit right here and I’ll just be inside this apartment to see what Mary needs. I’ll be out in a minute to check on you. Will you be okay?” Sitting on the floor with his coat still on, a book in his lap, and a toy in his hand, he looks up at me and nods his head repeatedly, eyes still wide open.
I go into the apartment and find Mary sitting on her sofa and ask her what’s going on. Her replies are slurred and slow and I know immediately she has suffered a stroke. She’s on the phone with her daughter and I ask if I can speak to her. She hands me the phone and I walk away from Mary and go into the bathroom where I hear the running water. As I move through the apartment I tell her daughter that I believe her Mom has had a stroke and I need to call 911 immediately. I ask her for pertinent information and end our call and then dial 911. The water is gushing from the toilet. It seems Mary has fallen and broken the tank. I call emergency maintenance, but they walk in a minute later because thankfully someone else has already called them.
I step out into the hall to check on Cooper and he’s fine. Eyes still wide, but he seems to be taking it all in calmly. A next door neighbor has asked if he can be of help and I introduce him to Cooper. “Cooper, this is Jon…Jon, this is my grandson Cooper”. Cooper extends his hand and shakes hands with Jon saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you”. Just like I’ve been teaching him! I am so proud and Jon looks at me and says, “He’s a chip off the old block”, and I think, yes, that’s true, and with any luck someday he will be better than the old block herself.
911 shows up shortly after that and Cooper’s eyes are even wider now as he watches everything going on around him. He sees the gurney, the uniforms, the big but gentle, men, and the women who are all quietly, but surely, coming to the aid of someone who really needs their help. One or two of them stop and talk with Cooper on their way in and again on their way out. They quickly assess the situation and take Mary to the hospital. By that time our maintenance man has the water situation under control, so I can take Cooper home. I do just that and he tells his Mom and Dad what he saw and heard and I think that’s the end of the story….. over and forgotten. A week later Mary returns home to recover nicely from a minor stroke.
I believe it’s a shocking, yet good experience for Cooper because he has the chance to see the benefits of remaining calm and courteous in the face of a potentially upsetting situation. He may not be capable of expressing how this episode affects him now, but I hope it will be meaningful for him sometime in his life.
A couple of weeks later Cooper is spending the night with me again and we’re going up to the exercise room on the 2nd floor because he likes to ride the bike and “walk” on the treadmill. As the elevator door closes and it’s just the two of us looking at each other, he asks quietly and very seriously, “Mema, how’s Mary?” It takes me a moment to understand what he’s asking me, and when my brain finally catches up with his, my heart leaps at the compassion he’s expressing by asking this question. I feel he has a comprehension of human suffering that belies his 7 years. I know I’m his Mema and I’m supposed to think he’s special, but he truly is, and I want to carefully nurture that special little heart that seems to know and remember the pain of others.