I was certain that I knew just what to expect. As a hospice volunteer I had spent countless hours with people who, in the final days and weeks of their lives, reflected on their life’s work, their families and loved ones and the paths they had traveled. I had been briefed of the fact that thirty year old Juan had arrived at the suburban nursing home from the gritty streets of crime-ridden Paterson, New Jersey. On the way to meet him for the first time I prepared myself for his anger, frustration and self-pity.
Within minutes of our first meeting Juan told me that several years as an intravenous drug user had caught up with him, he was homeless and he was dying of AIDS. He had no other visitors: his wife and children had abandoned him when he became ill and his friends on the streets couldn’t find a way to get to him. It seemed that Juan had little in his life to console him and I resigned myself to the fact that the best I could do was to distract him from his misery while we visited.
I could not have been more wrong. Juan was lonely, very sick and…elated. Accustomed to living on the streets, he couldn’t believe he was now in a warm, safe room. When he felt up to it he would take a long, hot shower, and he often marveled at the fact that he could order all of the meals and snacks he wanted. Juan spent much of each day telling staff members and other patients how lucky he felt to be in this place. He called friends and boasted of his good fortune. Juan had gone to the nursing home to die, and there he found unfamiliar comfort, dignity and peace. He lived his final days on earth with glee and gratitude.
I only knew him for a few months, many years ago, but I often think of Juan and what I learned from my time with him. Juan unknowingly reminded me over and over again that one’s reaction to an experience is shaped largely by their own frame of reference. More importantly, he showed me that joy can be found in unexpected places if you choose to look for it.
Julie Bentley lives and sells real estate in Northeast Florida. One of the most instrumental parts of her job is helping her customers set and manage their expectations of the home-selling and home-buying process. Fortunately for her customers she has been refining that craft for many years.