And the frosting on the cake: Elmer teased many of them. He did it gently, kindly, and always playfully, and he seemed to know exactly who would enjoy it. As a result, there seemed to be lots of grins and giggles whenever he was part of a circle of wheelchairs.
Alas, Elmer has left the building. I hope he'll be back as a volunteer one day, but I won't hold my breath; he's probably too busy facilitating friendships in the assisted living facility he now calls home. With people like him, there's never enough time to go around.
But I'm happy to report that I witnessed another smile-maker at work not long ago. I'll call this fellow Nate.
Nate is an interesting fellow. He's feisty and occasionally cantankerous. He's also kind, smart, well-informed, and very knowledgeable about the Bible -- always a plus in my book.
Nate has a roommate I'll call Samuel, a super-sweet older fellow who always seems a little sad, and occasionally a little bewildered. I've known him at least a couple years, and have never seen him even crack a smile.
I stopped to visit Nate and Samuel recently. Samuel's family had put a sizable Christmas tree on his dresser, with lovely ornaments. When I complimented him on it, he said, very sadly, that he had tried to light it but it didn't seem to work.
"Dumbkopf!" Nate cried, struggling to his feet and making his way over to the tree. "Just flip this switch. Do I have to do everything for you?"
Shocked, I looked at Samuel again, expecting to see anger on his face, or more likely a display of hurt feelings.
But not so. Instead, Samuel was grinning. He was beaming. He laughed out loud as Nate lit the tree.
Apparently, this not-so-gentle teasing was just what Samuel needed. Maybe it made him feel like one of the guys. Maybe it made him feel loved. Apparently it was an improvement over the careful expressions of concern and sympathy we women tend to deliver to people who seem a little forlorn.
For at least some people, teasing seems to be a wonderful way to warm their hearts and tickle their funny bones. I think Elmer and Nate are really on to something.