Our camp alma mater starts with “[t]he basic foundations of Wingate are expressed in what we advocate: be kind to others, know oneself, value knowledge and strive to create….”
Today I tried to live up to the first principle: be kind to others.
First a little back story that Wingaters know because I posted on our super-secret-decoder-ring-required Facebook page (with some edits):
Last night, I hopped the bus from the gym to home. It was 9:15pm. There was a confused elderly lady on the bus who was talking to the bus driver. The bus driver was impatient and short with this woman and dismissed her with, “switch buses at 110th Street for the M4”. OK, great. Really helpful, Ms. Bus Driver.
The old woman, Joan (as I later learned), seemed concerned that she would navigate this transfer successfully. She kept asking others on the bus, “is this 110th?”. So, I piped up that I was getting off at her stop (not true) and would help her make the transfer.
I couldn’t bare the thought of a confused person with limited night vision trying to find the bus stop around the corner from where the bus driver let us off.
I thought this woman could have been my mother if she were still alive. She is, in fact, the mother of two (as I later learned). But, all that matters is that she is a person in the world whose mind and body were failing and who needed a helping hand.
I waited with her until the bus came because she wouldn’t let me pay for a cab. I think she wanted the company. As we chatted, she told me about her life, her late husband, her children. She was a school administrator at Trinity School in New York City. She told me her name and where she lived. She kept repeating her phone number so I could call her. She gave me, as a stranger, too much information for her own safety. But her loneliness made my heart ache, so when she asked for my business card, I gave it to her.
I tracked down one of Joan’s children on the Internet and called him this morning to tell him that his mother was traveling late last night, and she was confused, lost and alone. He is aware of the problem but “she won’t listen”. He said, short of committing her, there was nothing he could do. I tried to develop a rapport by talking about my elderly and lonely dad and how we kids navigate this situation. He sighed and hmmm’ed. I said she seemed very lonely and I asked her when he last saw her. He said FIVE years and that should just show me how stubborn she was and how he HAD to throw in the towel. Really? Painful? yes. Give up? No. Inexcusable.
His sister is supposed to take care of things now. She is at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore (Joan told me). I don’t know her married name and he wouldn’t tell me. I told him about services in Joan’s area. I asked him to please tell his sister what happened.
I know he will do nothing. But she has my business card so she may call. If she remembers who I am.
I shared this with my Wingate camp friends. One commented, “Do parents give up on children? No. Children shouldn’t give up on them.” Another said, “I know very good geriatricians and helpers in her area. I can give you names.” SOB offered names for a psychological evaluation at a local hospital. Others chimed in their support.
It was hard to hear the sadness in Joan’s voice, experience the forgetfulness of Joan’s mind and see the fear in Joan’s eyes. It is scary to think that Joan might call me and draw me into her world. Extending a helping hand is harder than writing a check. It can getting messy, frustrating and time-consuming.
The basic foundations of Wingate are guiding principles for living a purposeful and enriched life, not an easy life. Step 1: Be kind to others.