El Lar de Idosos

October 28, 2011
By bellissimo BRONZE, Riverside, Connecticut
bellissimo BRONZE, Riverside, Connecticut
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

The first time I am called beautiful by someone outside of my family is in an elderly home. I’m eager to find a volunteer position, but as there are too many working in the local Sao Paulo orphanage, I reluctantly agree to spend two hours every Wednesday in a Brazilian elderly home. I don’t like old people, I tell my mother, because I simply don’t know how to act around them. Even so, I soon find myself in a cramped seat on a bus on my way to the lar de idosos.

The first day I am terrified. Crinkled old women with baby faces speak to me in Portuguese. Their whispered words whiz over my head and I glue my eyes to the ground in humiliation as their cackles ignite the room. Ela nao fala Portugues, they announce loudly, so I bow my head and live up to their expectations by pretending that I don’t speak Portuguese. When they turn to look for the television remote, I scurry into the kitchen to prepare drinks, and successfully evade conversation. I make a silent vow not to return the next week. But as Wednesday rolls around, I once again find myself bouncing down the unevenly paved road that leads to the elderly home. To my surprise, the trips fly by, and I suddenly find myself looking forward to my weekly visit. I begin to speak to the ladies. Though colloquial phrases and slang are often lost in my vocabulary, their crinkled mouths move with such passion that I cannot help but be mesmerized. It is not the words that cause laughter to bubble out from between stretched lips, but it is the feeling that accompanies such. To them, it seems that life itself is not as important as the manner in which we embrace it.

Recently, my father’s job transfer resulted in my trading the Brazilian lar de idosos for an elderly home in Connecticut. Here, everything is different. The room is new and full of new faces, but strangely the people I came to know in Brazil are the same people here.

The elderly in Connecticut, though incapable of shopping online or utilizing the latest technology, teach me lessons that could never be found on Google. A woman named Jane shows me her ankle that has grown to the size of a small cantaloupe, and tells of how it was broken at her grandson’s baseball game. I make note to avoid foul balls at such sporting events. A small, weathered man from China speaks to me in broken English about his own experience on a track team. I examine his quivering figure and cannot help but imagine him flying down a maroon colored track, his fingers wrapped snugly around a slick baton. Relating to these people does not come easily to me, but the more time I spend with them, the better I become at listening.

A few weeks ago, as I enter the dining hall I am called “beautiful” by a 102 year-old man who is seated in his usual red plush seat, drinking his usual small cranberry with ice. I match his toothless smile with a grin of my own. I say, “Thank you.”

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