All Rights Reserved
I work in a kind of home that is known by many names, the most common of which has either rest, retirement, or old folks preceding it. To say I see many people come and go would be somewhat of poor taste, so let’s just say my job requires a caring hand that is left open so as not to hold on with attachment but rather say goodbye in the most assisting manner possible.
Most of the residents I care for have come to a certain level of acceptance, those fortunate enough to still have memory intact allowing it to serve as a comforting reminder that they had their time and had done with it what they had. That it is now time to exhale, to let it all go, to prepare for the inevitable. But out of every bunch there are one or two who are the saddest of cases, fearing death to their core and therefore making it that much harder in this last stage of their life. This is probably the hardest part of the job, trying to comfort those who are trying so despertely to hold on to life. Thankfully, they are not of the majority.
The residents are always part of one of three circumstances; occasional visits from relatives, maybe once a week, month, holiday. Those who receive only annual visits, usually on a birthday or Grandparents Day. And then you have the all too common abandoned ones. Lonely souls who have to wait for the end in solitude. Of course they have the other residents and us caretakers, but when one no longer has the bond of blood in existence or already dead to those who do share it, the desolation can have one feel as if they are the last of their species.
Mrs. Thornebirch had been among the group that had no one, yet it had never shown. Every morning her eyes would be wide and bright, welcoming me to my shift with all the pleasantries a little old lady could possess. By the time I had met her I had conditioned myself to have a caring yet unattaching hand, but there was something about Mrs. Thornebirch that had my heart breaking such a rule. Maybe it was the kindness she always showed me, or the fact that we would fall into conversation several times a day, my personal favorites being when she would tell me stories of her past. Of how she had spent most of her life as part of a traveling carnival, growing up in a family of magicians and then getting married to one.
These were back in the days when most people still believed magic was possible, the awe across their faces being the real magic as she and others would perform mind-boggling tricks that only they knew the secrets to. I appreciated the fact that she hadn’t been one of those people who tried to get you to believe a lie, her stories always including the fact that the most important part of any conjuring effect was the presentation behind it. That when the audience beheld commitment they would always hold within, belief.
Perhaps it was because of this truth that I had opened up to the possibility of what she had suggested next. Believed by some within the magic community, including her own family, that within those moments of the real magic taking place, meaning the mystification felt between performer and spectator, that over time one could learn to take hold of this emotion, this wonder, this part of the human condition that could bring about a spiritual reaction. Take hold if only for an instant, for after a lifetime of doing such you would have enough magic accumulated to perform one real true act of the impossible, but only at the time when one is at their most spiritual, meaning the moment between life and death.
An interesting notion, I had to admit. But it had been years, decades since I had held the perspective of a child, my adult mind having long locked the door and thrown away the key to any fanciful thoughts. But if anybody could have picked that lock it was Mrs. Thornebirch, those eyes so wide and bright, full of volition without a particle of manipulation. And so I had submitted to them on the last day of knowing this sweet old lady, holding her hand and following her instruction as she told me to lose myself in her eyes, to allow them to take me back to a time in my life when I could have really have used the wisdom of what I knew now.
Within those hazel irises I saw the twelve-year-old I once was, heart racing, stomach churning, mind tormented at the thought of what this innocent was about to face. A scene I had known all too well, my father in the next room about to come in and unleash his rage.
One message came the voice of Mrs. Thornebirch, my soul, both young and older, hearing it, understanding it. And so I spoke to the more innocent version of myself…
“Do whatever you have to. Kick. Scratch. Gouge. It’s going to be very scary to push yourself to do it, especially the first couple of times, but each time it’s gonna get easier, and soon he’ll stop, because no one will want to keep going back to a place of hurt. Not even one who gives it.”
“What is gouge?” my younger heart asked.
“Dig. Dig deeper than ever before all the terror, pain, frustration of not being able to do anything about it. Dig it all up and use it. He’s going to feel so big that it doesn’t feel like your fight is hurting him, but I promise, it is.
“Just keep kicking, scratching, doing anything you can. He will learn, and stop.”
I was then withdrawn from Mrs. Thornebirch’s eyes, my vision of the present returning and in so doing feeling the tears that had gathered within my own. Upon wiping them away I again took sight at the friend before me, her eyes now in stillness, a look of contentment across her face. Her hand still in mine, I used my other to check her pulse. It was no more.
That night as I laid my head down to sleep I couldn’t help but continue my thoughts of Mrs. Thornebirch, and how she had used her one chance at real magic to help lift a great weight that had been crushing my spirit for as long as I could remember. Little did I know that this had only been the tip of the wand. That I would wake the next morning to a completely different reality. To one where my twelve-year-old self had found the courage to fight back, the abuse stopping soon thereafter, and as a result giving this psyche of mine a whole new lease on life, in turn having taken me down paths I had not walked before meeting Mrs. Thornebirch, these experiences although new to my former self now serving as part of my memory.
Although I don’t live the life of a traveling magician I feel compelled to try my hand at the Thornebirch theory, for I find I have moments of magic every day with those I care for. Whether it’s helping them remember something from their past, making them feel valued with a conversation in the present, or helping them come to accept what they will be facing in their near future, I have learned to not only identify but grab hold of that magic we share.
Magic I just may be able to pass on one day, as the gift of one message.