There are moments at the Bridge that hold me still and in that stillness I dwell in the sacredness of what I am bearing witness to. Poetry is alive at the Bridge. Poetry as an act; as spoken words. It is heard most clearly between one activity and another. In the small space between breaking bread and bowling, soft words are spoken and, too, eyes peer out the window panes at the world at large.
Last week, one of our newest attendees, a woman in her mid-nineties, stood at one of the large windows and silently watched snow falling outside. She then asked in a quiet voice, "Does this always happen here?" Not waiting for an answer, she continued, "I have never seen anything like this before. It's wonderful."
This woman, who will turn 100 in 4 years, lived almost her entire life in California. She recently relocated to Alaska to live with her daughter and her family. This winter was the first time she had experienced snow falling on an almost daily basis. It marveled her. She saw such great beauty in what so many here in Alaska think of as common. What resonated with me, while watching her, was how absolutely still she became while she viewed the snow falling. This stillness seamed together with her silent wonder was poetry.
Yesterday, I was sitting with a couple of seniors after our afternoon snack. I could hear two other women, both in their late eighties, talking at the table behind me. One of them was making a statement; a wisdom statement. This woman lived a childhood absent of toys and games. Her family worked picking fruit and harvesting vegetables on farms on the East Coast. She joined them in the field when she was eight years old. Her adult life hasn't been easy either. Yet, she has a strong belief in God and helps others whenever she can.
What I heard her say was this: "It's a great life if we don't weaken. You know what I mean? Do you understand? I'll say it again. It's a great life if we don't weaken. Yeah, because life is hard and you can get tired, but if you don't weaken you will see when you get older how great life really is. So, it's a great life if we don't weaken."
I came home last night, sat down at my kitchen table and said it over and over again as if it was a Buddhist koan or the first line in a prayer I was learning to recite. "It's a great life if we don't weaken."
Today, I invited a senior to work with the Montessori materials who hasn't before, but whom I spied peeking into a few of the small boxes that house some of those materials. First she did wood polishing. She did a wonderful job polishing the wooden cat.
After she was finished wood polishing, I asked her if she wanted to see what was in one of the boxes she has been peeking into. She quickly answered yes.
I brought a small box to the table and explained that it was used to identify singular and plural. I showed her how to lay out the cards and labels. I then asked her to carefully remove one item after another from the box and place each next to their matching label.
She opened the box lid, looked inside and joyfully exclaimed, "Look how small these things are!" She had been upset earlier about an incident she said she couldn't help but think about. It was the suicide of a school friend decades ago. "I cried and cried at his funeral. I just couldn't stop," she told each of the staff, and myself, repeatedly. I had chosen this time to introduce her to the singular and plural language material as a means of shifting her thoughts away from those about her friend's suicide. Too, as I noted above, I had observed that she was interested in the work.
She pulled one baby from the box and gleefully said, "Now this baby makes me happy! And look, there's it's twin." She pulled the second baby from the box and put both next to their matching labels. Then she pulled a very tiny man from the box. I had purchased it and several others like it in Upstate New York from an antique store that specialized in miniatures. "Wow, that is the smallest thing I have ever seen," she said. And then she did it. She held it up against her chest, leaned back and giggled. No, she didn't laugh. She giggled and her face lit up with joy.
I watched her, listened to the sound of her happiness and thought of all the glass blue birds my grandmother kept on windowsills at her home. Sitting there, I heard the poetry of birdsong in the giggle of an 85 year-old woman's voice.