A few years ago I had a telephone call from a man who wanted to see me about his mother, a patient in a Bet Avot (nursing home for the elderly). He came in the next day, a distinguished-looking man, 81 years old and retired. The “problem”, as he described it, concerned his 104 year old mother.
It seems that his granddaughter was soon to be married and the 104 year old great-grandmother insisted on attending the wedding in her wheelchair.
I told him I saw no problem with her wish. “But”, he added, “she insists on a new red dress which will cost me about 800 shekels. She’ll never wear it again so why should I waste the money? Perhaps you could talk to her. She always listens to you. Maybe you could convince her to be a little less foolish”.
That conversation remained with me for several days. I thought it over from every perspective. On the one hand, an 800 shekel dress for a 104 year old lady who would probably never wear it again did not make a great deal of sense. On the other hand, the old woman, a Holocaust survivor from Germany, had few real pleasures in her life and was looking forward to her great-granddaughter’s wedding.
“OK”, I thought. “Let her son splurge. Give the great-grandmother the most beautiful red dress in the shop. Yes, she may wear it only once, but so what? Let her enjoy it; life is so fleeting”. I picked up the telephone and told the son my feelings about his “problem”.
A week later, there was a knock on my door. When I opened it, there in a wheelchair sat a beaming old woman, glowing with radiance as she opened a box and showed me her new red dress.
“Frau Oppenheimer”, I told her, “you will be the second most beautiful woman at the wedding. Of course, your great-granddaughter will be the first”. “Ja, ja”, she replied. “I will be the second one”.
I shared her happiness because I understood silently that it might be the last time in her life that she would attend a wedding and dress up for a special joyous occasion.
I thought then of all the occasions in our lives when we dream special dreams, when we fantasize our pleasures, when we draw upon memory to recapture long-gone joys… the births of our children, their graduation from schools, their engagements and marriages, and the birth of grandchildren.
How fleeting are the years! How swiftly life ebbs and fades. And yet we, insignificant men and women, mortal beings though we are, fail to be thankful for each precious moment of life. Moments of joy as well as moments of sorrow.
Like the sunshine that follows the gentle rain, renewed happiness follows on the heels of pain and aggravation. Our eyes, perhaps somewhat dimmed, still see. Our ears, hearing perhaps diminished, still hear the call of a bird to its mate from the tree beneath our window. Our hands, sometimes gnarled and wrinkled, can still embrace a loved one and can hold a small child in our arms.
Our steps may be slower, our gait less steady, but our feet carry us to our destination.
Thank God for eyes that see, for ears that hear, for hands to hold, for feet to walk. Thank God for a heart that beats high with hope and for a life that dares to still dream for a better and more noble world.
I think often of that 104 year old great-grandmother who dreamed of her red dress and wearing it to her great-granddaughter’s wedding.
The truth is, she never did. She died a few weeks later, the red dress never worn, still hanging in her closet. But her dream, her hope, her wish for one more happy event in her life kept her going. It gave her final days extra meaning.
A dream is a precious thing to be nurtured forever. Anyhow, that’s life as I see it.