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When I was doing my clinicals to become a CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant) we spent a few days in a Nursing Home learning to put our skills learned from class into practice. I met some wonderful people in that nursing home. One of these was Jim. I was surprised by his cheerfulness, his childlike joy, his wide, clear startlingly blue eyes. I was in his room changing his sheets as he sat in his wheelchair waiting for me to finish when he  told me that  any time I wanted to practice for my skills test I or any of the others were welcome to come by.  He said he knew what the testers looked for. He also offered to help us study. He knew all the material. He said he liked doing this. “We all want you to succeed,” he said. 

I noticed he had thank you cards pinned to a bulletin board next to his bed. He said he liked hanging out with the young people from the nearby High School and helping them study or talking with them. He said they called him with their problems or came and did their homework there with him and his room mate.

Jim and I somehow got to joking around and laughing and also talking about God as I helped him back into bed. “I think I want to marry you!” he said. “I think I want to marry you too!” We laughed. “I’ve never met anybody like you!” “I’ve never met anybody like you either!” 

I would visit Jim now and then, bringing him books, getting to know him better. He was confined to either bed or a wheelchair because of paralysis on one side of his body. He had been upset to land in a nursing home at first and felt hurt by his family but over time had come to understand their reasons.

 Jim was a man steeped in the love of God and the practice of prayer. He felt God helped him decide that he had come there not to die but to live. And so began his life of service to those around him.

 They didn’t get priests at his facility  that often so Jim started to “have church” in the cafeteria every Sunday with whoever he could find. If  a person was less alert and oriented (A&O), he could ask to have them brought in so he could try talking to them. He would gather everyone there who would attend and mostly tell them with joy how much God loved them, how God was crazy about each of them as if there were no one else in all the world. He had me come sing at one of these gatherings and witness this myself. 

He knew a lot of the people there  were depressed especially newer residents who had recently been dropped off by their families. They were separated from their communities, their homes and everything they knew . Many felt betrayed by the people they loved most as if they were left there to die.  They felt the loss of their normal lives and their homes devastatingly. Jim took special time with every new arrival daily to help them come to terms with their situations as best they could. 

One little lady was sad about her dreams of travel never coming true. Jim would plan imaginary trips for her and him and show her maps and pictures, making up stories about their travel that made her laugh. 

Jim prayed the rosary almost continually. His goal was to pray a rosary for each person in residence there each day. That would be a lot of daily rosaries. But if he wasn’t out in the lobby playing checkers or laughing with friends I could find him in his chair sitting in the doorway of his room praying his rosary, his bright blue eyes eager and alert. 

He wanted to be radically available to everyone there and he was. Jim was there for the nurses, CNA’s and cleaning staff too. He was always praying about one of their troubles. He liked to say when you brought up a problem, “I know Somebody Who can fix it!” He liked to tell the troubled, . “Sometimes under the shadow of his wings it can be dark.” But, he pointed out, that’s when we were closest to the Lord.

If anyone in the facility was very sick or dying they would ask for Jim even in the middle of the night. Someone would wake Jim up and he would go to pray with them and stay by their side as long as was needed.

One of my friends visited Jim for advice about a problem. He made him coffee in the cafeteria listened with compassion and gave some pointed recommendations. 

Jim managed to keep a small “store” in the lobby with little things that are hard for residents of the nursing home to get. Someone had brought Jim a dorm refrigerator in which he kept cokes and snacks. He curated a collection of odds and ends in case any of them needed anything. 

Jim was happy and it was easy to see why. He used to marvel, “I was angry to be left here but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me!” 

Maybe that’s because with Jesus whoever loses his life for love will more than keep it; they will shine! 

I told Jim about the devotional titles we have as Carmelites, such as “Karen of His Merciful Love” or Sandra of the Sacred Heart, or “Joe of the Cross” or “Denis of Jesus and Mary.” He said he would be “Jim of the Resurrection.” It was perfect. 

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