The short story writer Flannery O’Connor had an anecdote about “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” one of her truly great works. She went to a class at Wesleyan and one of the young teachers there started asking questions. “Miss O’Connor,” he said, “why was the Misfit’s hat black?” She answered that most countrymen in Georgia wore black hats. He looked pretty disappointed. Then he said, “Miss O’Connor, the Misfit represents Christ, does he not?” “He does not,” she said. He looked crushed. “Well, Miss O’Connor,” he said, “what is the significance of the Misfit’s hat?” She said it was to cover his head; and after that he left her alone.
Well, sometimes (apparently like in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”) a hat is just a hat. At MPTF recently we learned that at other times there is true symbolic value vested in objects and spaces. During the dark days of our Long Term Care crisis (you might remember …) MPTF management decided to shut down the dining room on the Garden level of our hospital where our LTC residents had been dining. Instead, meals were brought to the residents and they dined either individually or in small groups on the floors where they lived. This was before my time, but I believe the reasoning behind the change was that there were fewer LTC residents, which made the program a challenge to maintain.
In any event, the change wasn’t well accepted by residents or their families for that matter. It’s been the perennial “pebble in the shoe” and for some time now I have had questions about “when are we going to open the dining room again?” Well, guess what? On Valentine’s Day, we did it! Thanks to the great support from our dining staff, our activities team, our nursing staff, and our volunteers (and many family volunteers!), we re-launched our Social Dining program on the Garden level. On Monday night, the first time I could get over there to see them, the sheer delight of it gave me goose bumps! About 25 or so residents were dining communally, with wait staff serving them deliciously prepared hot food, and nursing and activities staff and volunteers helping out on the feeding side where needed. All I saw was smiling faces, happiness peeking out from inside of these frail and vulnerable senior industry members, and even big grins from our staff. Who couldn’t feel good about this? A little music from the Golden Age and they’ll be all set!
For everyone involved in our Long Term Care program, that dining room and the social dining experience had become something much more than what it seems: it was a symbol of the way things were before they went awry for a few years, a return to the good old days that many of them knew and missed, a return to them of a more cheerful and dignified way of sharing a meal and a few stories. We are sure grateful to residents and family members who exhibited patience and believed in us when we said “it’s coming,” and to so many people who supported us along the way. It takes a village sometimes – I guess that’s a symbol as well!