I met Alice in Wonderland in a nursing home.
In February, I participated in an outreach to give manicures to elderly women in a local facility. Nursing homes are not unfamiliar environments for me; my only memories of my maternal grandmother, “Mia,” are of caring for her with my mother in such a facility.
By the time I was old enough to remember her, her mind had faded, and I only knew a shadow of the strong woman she was. Amidst her struggle with Alzheimer’s, her well-trimmed love for God still flickered brilliantly through the cracks.
As the years passed and she steadily dimmed, sometimes, to wake her mind up, I held her hand as she lay in bed and told her about the beautiful day outside. I would whisper the same description over and over, and slowly her eyes would begin to lighten and her mouth would curl as she recognized what I said about the birds and the sunshine. Without fail, her heart would catch hymns being sung, and she still recalled and gently sang them with us to the end of her life in 2015.
When I walked in to the nursing home for the outreach this semester, those memories tapped me on the shoulder. I looked around at the elderly who were settled in wheelchairs or were shuffling behind walkers, and I felt as though I were standing at the edge of a corn field after harvest. Mere husks of souls seemed to blow about.
We spoke with the ladies as we cared for their hands, cleaning off old colors and trimming their nails.
Sometimes the conversations were chatty and light as we swapped soft laughter and stories. Sometimes the conversations were belabored and pitiful, as words were painfully bent and little meaning given or received. Their eyes were heavy and their mouths rumpled, bodies worn and minds calloused.
One lady with whom I sat had a light pink paint on her nails, and she told me she would love to switch it up. I cleaned off the old polish and offered her several other shades, but after being indecisive she reached over and picked the exact same shade she had just discarded. “Oh, this is lovely!” she said with a gasp.
I gently suggested that it was quite similar to the one she had been wearing, quite possibly the same, but she was unfettered and declared it was the perfect new shade. “I can match this to my blouse!” she said with a blissful smile.
I felt like an accomplice to dramatic irony as I painted her nails the same shade I had just removed and observed her joyful approval of her fresh look.
One woman, with a mind seemingly a good deal brighter, selected a powerful shiny purple. I asked her name and she said with a beautiful smile, “Alice.”
“Like Alice in Wonderland?” I teased.
“Why, yes! That’s me,” she chuckled.
Encouraged by her laughter, I continued, “What was it like? I hear it’s an awfully beautiful place.”
She chuckled once more, but this time with a question mark forming on her brow. I attempted to continue the joke, but I could see the interest fade from her eyes as she lost her own thoughts when they met mine. I changed the subject.
People often speak of the natural cycle of life. “That’s just the way things are,” parents offer to their children.
But the Bible tells us the story of how death is anything but natural. Death and the path to it were never included in the script. God wrote the world free from decay, with all He created abounding delightfully in the ultimate form of life: fellowship with God.
We know that when man broke God’s law, we received the penalty of a death far more painful than that which we now claim as “natural.” Humankind was separated from Him by sin and discovered spiritual death for the first time.
As easily as we see the effects of death upon a wearied body, God sees our souls heavy with death when we live separated from Him. It pains Him to see us stumble blindly, incapacitated and unfruitful.
I can’t free those beautiful women from their physical debilitation. But God can do for us spiritually what I wish I could do for those women physically—with one touch of His hand He can illuminate our souls and liberate us from the law of sin and death. Now we see through a glass darkly, but soon our bodies too will be set free from this bondage of death.
As we cleared away the supplies and said goodbye to the women, I reflected on what a resident told me when I had remarked on her Star of David necklace. She immediately told me how much love she had for the Jewish people. “Before I came here, I donated the last of my money—about $30—to a Jewish charity,” she said.
Tears quickly stung her eyes as she looked down and said, “I wanted to do something while I could. It was the last thing I could do to help.”
Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand forever.”
Today is the day to be good stewards. Today is the day to plant. Today is the day of salvation. Our days are few and evil, but God is our hope that will redeem us to life everlasting. Surely goodness and mercy will follow His children all the days of our lives.