December 1, 2016 –Be honest, have you complained about your lot in life this week? I know I have. I got stuck in security at O’Hare Airport, I had a rental car that didn’t start, a restaurant I was at ran out of what I wanted to order and my latte was cold! Such obstacles to overcome! All that was followed by a long drive to Erin, Tennessee, and visiting a new friend at a Signature community. Yet that threw me off my whiny rear end and opened my eyes to the power of humanity.
We’re all dealt hands in life, some are better than others. Someone smarter than me had a quote along those lines – you can’t control the hand you are dealt, but you can control how you deal with it. That philosophy, that reality, kicked me right in the teeth when I met Don.
One of the joys of my job is to travel the land and see how creative communities are using iN2L. Angie McAllister, the queen of Signature’s quality of life initiatives, worked extremely hard to get iN2L systems into Tennessee through a CMP grant. Their implementation was remarkable (click here for the story) and their reputation is unsurpassed. I was delighted to take my first visit out to one of their communities. Hence my visit out to Erin. I did a double take at my GPS as Laura Mock and I headed out there. I thought I was on a dead-end road winding my way through an unknown part of the Volunteer State. Through the rain, I saw a Signature van. Eureka! I had found the right spot.
I walk through probably 50-60 communities a year and, for me, it’s never the aesthetics that grab me– it’s the soul and spirit you feel when you walk through the door. And this place had it. Every staff person was seamlessly integrating their task at hand with a genuine smile on their face. I’m not sure if it’s a Signature thing or a credit to the administrators, but it was truly remarkable. This doesn’t happen by accident. But I’ll save that story for another blog.
The point of the visit was to see how iN2L was integrated into this community. After an eye-opening tour of the community (including live alpacas!) we sat down with the staff. They were going to introduce me to a “power” iN2L user. I love these conversations – hearing how our technology is impacting the energy of a community and an individual. But after one of the residents walked in the room and I heard his story I forgot I was supposed to be thinking about iN2L. I was mesmerized, literally overwhelmed by this remarkable, gregarious, energetic, thankful man. His name is Don but to me he is more like Hercules.
Don’s story is a hard, painful one, which he agreed to let me share. He is only 48 years old and has lived a life through the unfathomable prism of cerebral palsy. It’s an obvious affliction for him as he gets through the day, but any thought of identifying him through his disability melts away as he tells yarn after yarn of his life. And the more the story was told, and the longer the story was told, the true power of what a community can do beamed larger and larger. He has lived there for eight years. When he first arrived he was angry, bitter, struggling through depression, his marriage failing, and he was disconnected from his daughter. Underneath all of that, the nurturing staff at Signature saw him not for what he was at that time, they saw him for what he could be. Not a bitter, angry man, but a person who needed support to get to a better place. And that support was delivered! The stories of what the Signature team delivered to him were endless: NASCAR rides; sledding down mountains; hunting trips; police car ride-alongs. It’s the epitome of what gives one hope in the profession of senior living. A man who has been dealt the ultimate raw hand is flourishing, thriving and most remarkably, grateful for where he now finds himself.
It was powerful. Three days later I can still see him smiling. “This is home,” Don said glibly, eyes twinkling. “These people care about me, I look forward to getting up and seeing what the day is going to bring.” Wow! He could just as easily say, “This stinks. This is so unfair. I’m 48 years old with a difficult disease, surrounded by people 20, 30 and 40 years older than I am. How did I get here?” His attitude is just remarkable!
So my one self-serving note is the reality that Don is going crazy with iN2L. He loves all of the things it lets him do. He talked about music, listening to the Paul Harvey show, Skyping with his daughter and playing games. An hour after our conversation ended I took a tour and saw the alpacas. Then I wandered back into the activity room by myself. There was Don on the iN2L system, immersed in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. The thought of him having any “limitations” was the furthest thing from my mind. He had been dealt a hand that was tough and was raising every chance he got. Literally and figuratively.
Thank you, Signature! Thank you, Angie! Thank you and the whole team you have built! Thank you to the administrator at the community, Barry Cotton, for building this nurturing environment! All of you have shown us that, once again the spirit of humanity can trump the pain of adversity. Deal me in!