One of the most memorable afternoons I've ever experienced at "my" nursing home was spent sitting in the facility's lovely courtyard with a group of long-term residents, all women. It was a delightful time of fellowship with people who have only one major thing in common -- the fact of having likely reached the last stop in long lives, well lived.
If I had to sum up what I witnessed that afternoon in just a couple of words, it would be just this: agape love.
One of the things that struck me, for instance, was how compassionate these people are, how forgiving of each other's limitations.
For example, one dear woman repeated herself, again and again. No one pointed it out; instead, they responded as if they were hearing her comments for the first time, every time. This patience didn't hurt them one bit, and it made the speaker feel that she was contributing to the conversation. Perhaps they're all simply good-hearted; perhaps they are all too aware that they may well be doing the same thing a month or two down the road. The motive doesn't always matter when the outcome is charitable.
Another very sweet woman was having a terrible time completing any sentences. The others stepped in to help her find the words she was looking for; their interest and assistance were obviously very welcome.
Then the group began complimenting this same woman on how attentive and devoted to her well-being her children are. They agreed, one and all, that she is among the most fortunate and beloved of all.
Joining us halfway through our time together was a 70-something man who'd been there for months recovering from major surgery. He is an amazing fellow -- I don't believe I've known another resident like him in the years I've been hanging out at this place. He's not simply friendly to his elders in the "hi, how are you?" sense; he treats them all as his companions and contemporaries.
This man actively engages even the shyest residents in conversation. He remembers to ask follow-up questions about the events of their lives, from a bout with a cold to a child's job search. He teases many of them -- something that seems to be pretty rare in a nursing-home setting. He talks with them about a wide range of topics, including current events and spirituality; he never equates great age with stupidity. And indeed, lively conversation seems to ensue whenever he shows up.
Agape love is, among other things, unconditional and self-sacrificing, patient and kind and utterly devoid of pride. And it's just what I saw in overdrive in the courtyard that unforgettable afternoon. What treasure! And it's available to anyone who can find a little time to spare for these wonderful old folk.