Today was the annual visit for students of mine who are members of Interact Club (Rotary International) to head over to our local nursing home and deliver presents to residents who would otherwise have no family members visiting or likely receive gifts on Christmas.
We receive the wishlist for fifteen patients, take an afternoon to buy them sweatpants, blankets, books, chocolates, art supplies and wrap them on the last day of school before winter break. Our club members respond warmly to the vis-à-vis exchange. Every year, for me, there is a resident who stands out and makes me think about life and the secret behind having a good one. I know it will happen; it’s divine intervention. The revelation has me thinking of George Bailey from the iconic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the life imitating art moment affects me.
Mr. Bouffard recently turned 100. He is well liked by the nurses and staff because he is a cheery man.
Over the summer, he was honored by the mayor and honor guard for serving in WWII. A book was written chronicling his time, and what his band of brothers did. It sits along with his dog tags in a cupboard. All will be donated to the local historical society when he passes.
Armand had me imagining him at age twenty-five. His life was ahead of him; each decade brought challenges, joys, and tragedy. Think of the experiences one gathers up over a lifetime. Here was a man with wisdom. What could he share? This man with ancient skin, a crinkled face, and watery eyes? He, a fragile shell who was once a soldier, a son, a husband, and a father? Now at age 100, he is alone, yet he still smiles. Days go by slowly, but the weeks fly by, and the years even faster. Such is life.
I have a cynical attitude about reaching 100. I look at Armand and wonder how he still smiles? After all, he is alone and not in his home. Who is left to share his life? Not his spouse. No children. No friends. How could anyone want to live to be 100?
What you have is yourself.
Armand gave himself for 100 years. He took chances and loved. He took chances and failed. He did what he was supposed to and a little of what he shouldn’t. At 100, he crossed the line, broke the ribbon, and won the game of life. I would like to believe for what mistakes he made he owned and apologized. If he didn’t, I hope he forgave himself for being human.
Armand Bouffard’s secret? He is proud of himself. He is attended to by compassionate caregivers who do their best to make sure he is comfortable in his final days. He sucks on candy, scoots around in his wheelchair, and says hello to everyone who passes by. He owns nothing but his smile, and it gives me courage. If I make it to 100, I want to feel proud that I caused more joy than pain. I want to wear Armand’s smile like a medal on my chest.