What does it mean to Reimagine the Magis? All December 2020, during a year of radical reimagining, we explore this most Jesuit charge, in order to be more, become more, and realize a more inclusive, equitable, and just Northwest.
This is my second year as the Residential Life Specialist at the Heritage Living Center in Ashland, MT. Ashland is a small, rural community situated in the beautiful Tongue River Valley on the border of the Northern Cheyenne Nation in southeastern Montana. The Heritage is a small assisted living facility home to around 24 elders, most of whom are Northern Cheyenne. I spend my days visiting with residents, assisting them at mealtimes, driving them to doctors appointments, playing card games, going on walks and doing other crafts and activities with them.
Our facility has been locked down since March, with residents not leaving the facility, except for necessary medical visits, and no guests or visitors. Many of my residents have not seen their families in this time. Over the course of the summer and into this fall, we’ve been through multiple extended periods of time where residents have been isolated to their apartments as an additional precaution.
Spending more one-on-one time with residents has made our interactions feel more honest, personal and intimate. I’ve been with residents as they have cried over the deaths of multiple family members from COVID-19. I’ve seen how their mental and emotional health has deteriorated, many times impacting their physical health. I’ve heard more stories about their childhood, their time serving in the U.S. military, the joys and sorrows of raising their children and grandchildren. I’ve woken residents up in the morning, brought them their coffee and helped them get their clothes ready for the day. I love the more intimate and personal interactions that I have had with residents since lockdown and feel in many ways more deeply connected to many of them as a caregiver and a friend.
At the Heritage I pursue justice through individual actions of care. When I was an undergraduate at Seattle University, I was inundated with social justice education, but my service now challenges me to understand justice differently. It is not just about knowing about what causes injustice in the theoretical, but rather consistently choosing to show up to inexplicable suffering. Showing up for the messy work of love with my residents takes patience and humility and being okay with discomfort and deep sorrow that I don’t always think that I have. In showing up for the small moments of love, I believe I am a part of a greater healing, beyond me and my understanding, beyond the Heritage and beyond Ashland. Even when they are in pain and discomfort, even when they are tired and irritable, and even when the loss that comes with life and aging is hard, being present to my residents, feels like the most meaningful manifestation of love, and of justice, that I have ever experienced.