The children marched through the door as they do each month, this time with remnants of glazed doughnuts still on their chins – a result of a field trip to a local Amish bakery on the way. As the elderly were assisted from their craft table into armchairs encircling the common area, the children were instructed to file around and shake hands. Some did so confidently. Others bravely fought bashfulness. Both the children and elderly alike.
I saw small hands, smooth with youth (and perhaps dirty under the fingernails), cupped in larger hands, wrinkled with years. Their fingernails were dirty once, too, perhaps.
The children sang loud “O beautiful, for spacious skies,” ignorant in youth, while several elderly mouthed along familiar lyrics with maybe a deeper understanding of the “liberating strife” in verse three.
I saw smiles from white haired women directed at the “precious children,” and the occasional nod of the head from glassy eyed men tired from life.
Poems recited by the children encouraged clapping from the older generation whose minds used to be sharp, and they knew it but couldn’t quite remember what it was they knew.
The children were instructed to “pick a friend” for the ring toss game. “Introduce yourself. Ask them about their family.” Some spoke louder than others. (Both children and elderly.) Some rambled on about something entirely unrelated to the question. Some conversations lasted a few seconds.
I saw small hands grasped by larger hands once more, lingering in their greetings. I saw awkward silence eased by a kind smile between a boy and a woman with nothing left to discuss. But in each pair of “friends” I saw the desire to communicate, whether by words or by touch. “I used to be like you,” the elderly thought.
Ring toss promoted comradery as teams cheered for each other. The children out-threw most of their team mates, who graciously accepted the limitations placed on their aged bodies. In the end, Old Ken and his young partner edged out Old Carl and his young partner in a tie breaker. Old Dean chuckled as he whacked Ken’s knee, “I thought you wouldn’t be able to do it!”
I heard laughter from the young and the old. And I realized the brotherhood spanning these generations, this creation made in the image of their Maker awaiting perfection and the frailty of life in young and old alike. I saw the mutual benefit of friendship – the children practicing respect of elders and valuing a gray head of wisdom, and the elderly remembering the joy of youth, anticipating the future gift of renewed bodies, and delighting in the innocence of children.
This brotherhood has nothing to do with America. It has to do with humanity, the need for grace, and the gleaming alabaster city of eternity, where each brother or sister of Christ (including this observer) will, in some way, get to be like children again.
O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!