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My children spent 2 hours at a local nursing home the weekend before Christmas, visiting with the residents and singing (along with the rest of their school group) a few off-key Christmas carols. Their intent is always to play games and put together puzzles and other engaging activities, but the truth is the older people don’t want that at all.

“To be honest,” one 86-year old told my daughter, “I really don’t want to play Uno. Let’s just visit.” (That made me laugh.)

Most of them have some level of dementia, so conversations can be circular and frustrating. But the middle-schoolers press on, and by the end of the 2 hours they are scattered among the residents’ rooms, looking at memorabilia from wars, listening to stories, seeing family photos and photos of deceased spouses, or helping look for “lost” items (“someone’s been stealing my hairbrush” one woman complained).

There are always some heartwarming moments with these older people, who absolutely crave companionship. “I’m just here for a week,” Mildred told my daughter Annie. “Then I’m going back to California.” (Mildred’s been there each of the three times Annie’s visited in 2 years; I don’t think she’s going back to California.)

The older ladies share advice on life, and tell about things they accomplished – one woman tells Annie about her college major, math (“considered strange for girls”) and obtaining a master’s degree, her proudest achievement.

In a bittersweet moment, one woman caught 2 of the girls and said to them, “Girls, when I look back over my life, I regret that I didn’t do anything very special. There’s nothing remarkable about anything I did. My advice to you is when you graduate from high school, find the best job you can. Aim high. Get a good education. While you can, make a splash, so you have something to look back on.”

Umm, ouch!  Great advice, but from such a sad place! I pressed Annie for details on this one… did this woman raise a family? Did she have a career? What’s the rest of the story??   But Annie didn’t have much more detail. “She just wanted us to make a splash, Mom. You know, make memories.”

Life is so short, and so precious. Most of us will have adventures in life – we’ll love, we’ll lose, we’ll win, we’ll fail, we’ll have great highs and deep lows. But for the majority of us, the “ripples” from our splash will only impact those in our own little pond – our spouses, children, parents, friends, family. But what an impact we can have on even those in our own little worlds! The small ripples we create through teaching, loving, sharing experiences, love, faith….these have as lasting an impact on those closest to us as a big splash would.

So yes, adventure and achievement and pushing boundaries is important… I want my children to do all that and more. Explore, explore, explore! Take risks! But I want them to remember that it’s how we love that’s what will cause the longest-lasting ripples in life. Love and care and treating people well. Serving. That’s your splash.

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