“Who am I and why am I here?” It’s a question a lot of us ask ourselves throughout our lives and sometimes we find an answer. Once in awhile, that answer can be momentous and eye-opening, giving us new found confidence and opening our eyes to the meaning of our past and a pathway to our future. Sometimes, the answer’s meaning is fleeting- a transient ghost of who we are at that point in our lives when we have yet to find our way.
Years ago, I was a concierge at an assisted living facility. I sat at a huge cherry desk in a beautiful sitting area at the entrance of the building, greeting guests, answering phones and assisting residents in a variety of ways. One of our residents was named Helen. Helen was a beautiful soul. She only ever saw beauty. No matter who she talked to, she would compliment something about them. Helen may not have even known the person, but she’d greet them with a smile, touch their arm and say, “You know, you’re absolutely beautiful!” or “Look at your eyes, they’re stunning.” or “You are such a special person. Do you know that?”
No matter how bad your day may have been, when Helen shuffled your way, you’d know she’d leave you with a smile.
The thing that fascinated me most about Helen is that she had dementia. She had forgotten so much, yet the light in her soul still shined through. Her family members said she had always been that way, even though she had survived some very difficult times. Her family told me of her heartbreak and her fears. The things she lived through were downright devastating...yet here she was, contagiously happy, smiling and only seeing the beauty around her.
As her memory started to fade even more, she’d still smile and her beautiful eyes still glowed, but she’d repeatedly walk up to my desk and ask, “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Not wanting to insult me, she’d often add, “It’s absolutely gorgeous here, and I’m so happy to see you, but who am I? Why am I here?”
I’d answer her the way I was trained to, “You’re Ms. Helen and this is where you live,” but I would always add, “And we are so happy to have you here with us.”
She’d shake her head in understanding, pat my hand with a smile, thank me and walk away. Fifteen minutes later she’d be back, asking me the same questions again.
I eventually left the assistant living facility to have my first child, and I only returned a couple times to visit the faculty and residents. Eventually we moved out of state and back again. Time moved on. Eleven years have passed, and my heart and mind tell me that Ms. Helen has inevitably left this world, but her memory has not left mine.
Sometimes, when life gets tough, I ask myself, “Who am I and why am I here?” but when those words echo in my mind, it is not my voice I hear, but Helen’s, and I can’t help but smile.
Nobody truly knows why we are here, and people can only figure out who they are by living their life and finding their own way, but Helen taught me that no matter how bad things get, there is always something of beauty around us. In the dark, empty recesses of her mind, Helen had nothing to cling to, so she clung to beauty, sunshine and happiness. She had a choice. I choose to do the same.
Causes Courtney Filigenzi Supports
American Cancer Society
Army of Women