Recently I was given some good advice from a 90-something-year-old woman. When I asked her, “What is the secret to a long and happy life?” she replied, “Respect the other person, and be patient.”
A week later I had an opportunity to put into practice this sage advise. I had arrived for a communion service and sat down near a confused resident of a nursing home. On recognizing me, the woman began repeating loudly over and over again, “My toes hurt.” I was concerned that this would quickly become distracting for the Presider of the communion service and for the others in attendance. I put my finger to my lips and told her that the service was starting soon and we needed to be extra quiet. She persisted. “My toes hurt.” Thinking my presence so near her was prompting this, I got up and moved a short distance away in the room to see if she would quiet down. Instead, she peddled herself over in her wheelchair to my new location. “My toes hurt,” she began again. I realized quickly that trying to quiet her or avoid her would only exacerbate whatever pain – physical or psychological – she might be feeling. Acknowledging and validating her, I exclaimed, “Your toes hurt!” “Yes,” she replied, “they sat on them. Now my toes hurt.” “Well, that’s understandable,” I said. “If someone sat on my toes, mine would hurt too.” “You, too, huh?” she observed sadly. Then she silently peddled her wheelchair out of the room. If the Rule of St. Benedict begins with the admonition to “Listen with the ear of your heart,” then it is only appropriate that in one of the last chapters he encourages us to be respectful and patient with each other. Listening deeply produces respect, patience, and acceptance that we all want and need. When we stop, listen, and respond with love, we are imitating Christ in our daily lives. Illustration From The Rule of Benedict with illumination by +Sister Mary Charles McGough and calligraphy by Meridith Schifsky, 1990. All rights reserved.
Sister Ann Marie Wainright
Sister Ann Marie Wainright is a Benedictine Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, she worked as a CPA for many years before earning dual masters degrees in counseling and pastoral studies. Sister Ann Marie is interested how people encounter God in their daily lives and how they use their faith and spirituality in meeting difficult challenges.