“Let me help you, ma’am; all you need to do is match the number on your bingo board with the number I call out. Whenever you have a match, just put this little red chip on top of it. And of course, don’t forget to say ‘Bingo!’ when you have a line of five red chips.” After providing this instruction, I smiled at the lady and reflected on my work. As I was teaching that eighty-year-old woman how to play bingo, she, along with many other seniors, was teaching me how to live a fulfilling life.
As a dedicated volunteer at Deaconess Hospital, I work closely with elderly patients, both organizing and participating in activities. Since the summer of my junior year, I have played a vital role in assisting with bingo games for patients, helping to set up and run those games almost every Saturday. Then, prior to the start of each game, I go around the room with a colorful bowl collecting twenty-five cents from each of the players. Despite the measly sum of the fee, however, I often struggle to gather the funds; very few people willingly give up their money. One regular participant in particular — Ruth — always gives me enormous trouble when I try to collect a quarter from her. The moment I enter her sight, she never fails to say something like, “You again?” or “Don’t bother — I don’t have any money.” Despite her seemingly negative responses, I have never been discouraged; instead, I have come to consider those harsh words her normal greeting.
After batting over money for several minutes, I can finally get the game underway. I start calling out numbers while the participants are still chatting, as they never completely quiet down no matter how many times I ask; just like kids in kindergarten, they have endless things to talk about. As I shout numbers, though, another battle begins. No matter how loud I scream, Gordon — another regular player — often interrupts by shouting back at me, “What was the number?” or responding to my call of “Fifty!” with “Sixty?” Annoyed by his constant questioning, other players then inevitably begin shouting at him, “It’s fifty! Five-oh!” Impatient comments such as “Stupid,” would then fly about the room, causing me to start calling out numbers by their digits to avoid further conflict.
Every so often, one of my elderly acquaintances stops showing up at the center altogether. In asking about their whereabouts, I usually discover that they have passed away, “Gone on to a better place,” as my supervisors put it. Though a relatively common occurrence given the age of this population, I still find it sad every time this happens. Despite their stubborn unwillingness to part with a quarter, ceaseless talking, and impatience combined with hearing loss, those bingo-playing seniors have inspired me greatly. Observing them has taught me how to truly enjoy life. Even with their difficulties moving, communicating, and remembering, my elderly friends still manage to live happy and fulfilling lives, treasuring every moment of their days. They also refuse to let problems, however large or small they may be, overwhelm them.
In reflecting on this, I find it amazing that young people, physically and mentally strong, complain about so much. They waste their time on alcohol and drugs, and fritter away their lives with ridiculous, mind-numbing pursuits. Working with elderly patients at the hospital has taught me that everyone gets only one chance in this world. Thus, we should strive to make the most of every day, a goal that now motivates me in all of my undertakings and a lesson that I aspire to share with others