The following is a reflection written by Eryn Gronewoller, one of this year's Volunteers in the Little Village Community
God grant me the serenity…
Like the serenity I feel when I look at Lake Michigan. Because when I look out into that great mass of water, I feel invincible, yet vulnerable. I feel small, yet not insignificant. I feel like maybe I have a part to play in God’s plan, no matter how small, an important part.
I thank God for the opportunity of Amate House. Without it I would not be in Chicago living with 7 other strangers who over the past two months have become my family. I would not be working for a nonprofit that cares for Chicago’s isolated and lonely seniors. I would not have grown in ways that right now are hidden to me, but I feel myself growing. It has been an adjustment. There have been growing pains. Yet I know this is where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing. I have peace in knowing God has a plan for me here.
To accept the things I cannot change…
My boss says the elderly are just “recycled children.” They require a lot of care and attention. Sometimes they get cranky if they don’t have a nap. When working with both, patience is a necessary skill. Yet unlike children, the elders I work with have lived long lives. Lives filled with love and loss. Personal histories touched by war and abuse. Times when they have had it all, and times when they have had nothing.
My job is to listen and care. My job is to be there, because they have no one else. I am forced to accept that my elders are alone and lonely. Many live in nursing homes where they face indignity and disrespect. They are isolated and forgotten. It is easy for me to blame society for not valuing the elderly, or to blame their families who seldom visit, but I can’t change that.
The courage to change the things I can…
I can be a bright spot in their day. I can provide direct service and basic care or just be the listening ear they need. I can take them out and listen to their stories about the city, appreciating the joy they get just from driving around their neighborhoods. I can provide companionship that they so desperately crave and need. To me it may not feel like much, but to them it is everything.
Over the past two months I have seen how a simple haircut could change my elder into a new man, spirited and alive. I have helped to throw parties where elders get the chance to talk to other elders, eat a good meal, and dance to the music of their youth. I’ve heard first hand stories of world events I’ve only read about in history books, and seen the strength of each elder as a survivor. One of my elders told me that getting old isn’t for the weak, and I see he was right. They face struggles and challenges every day that at my age never even cross my mind. While I can provide friendship and comfort to them, my elders teach me more and more each day.
... And the wisdom to know the difference
As I reflect on the past two months with Amate House, I thank God for the opportunities he has provided me thus far. I am thankful for my education and the skills I have that enable me to better serve the people I work with. I ask God for wisdom in continuing this year of service, as I know I will need it. In the meantime, I can learn from the life wisdom of my elders. I can share in the experiences of my housemates as they too take their own different journeys through this year.
No one makes it through life unscathed. We love. We suffer. We care. We endure. It is in those life moments that we find each other. Eight strangers forced to live together, to support each other, to change one another. A volunteer and an elder getting to know one another, crossing a bridge of loneliness and finding common ground. Those human connections are what I have found make life worth living. I am thankful for the beautiful humans who have come into my life as a result of Amate House, and it is a pleasure to grow a little bit older and a little bit wiser with them.