person holding a stress ball
Photo by Matthias Zomer on

In the early morning, noon, and early evening, they gather around a rectangular table in the dining hall. About 10 or a dozen elderly men, all in rehab at a five-star nursing facility mid-state. That rectangular table is surrounded by several round tables of another 40 women. Most sit in silence, waiting for whatever meal is being served.

When there is conversation it’s of nothing meaningful, and overheard is talk of families that have virtually abandoned them or hope that someday soon they will be able to return home. Some have been there a few days, some a few weeks, many for months.

At one corner of the table, a slim man, who hardly eats nods off, at the other end, a man, his hands shaking has difficulty filling his fork. 

Recently, after a nasty fall, I found myself among them at this facility. I’d visited nursing facilities to see relatives often but never experienced it as a patient. My stay was brief, just three or four days. It is perhaps passage of one aspect of life to another, but I couldn’t help but feel that so much knowledge and wisdom was locked inside because no one, really, had bothered to ask.

When I asked the “sleeping” man what he had done for a living, his face lit up, and he was more than eager to talk about a career in oil, much of which I didn’t really understand. He was simply happy that someone had an interest in him.

When I turned to the man on my right and asked the same, he talked enthusiastically of his years as a shell fisherman. 

And another talked of 20 years in the navy, twenty as a bus driver, and how as a boy he and his family were caught in the hurricane of ’38.

I remember so many times in the past, reading obituaries of people I wish I had come to know.

We often get caught in raging technology, in life moving at warp speed that we are unable to simply listen, leaving untold so many stories. It’s upon those experiences that have weaved the fabric of our society today – for good or bad – stories we need to hear.

By asking and listening we can breathe life into those that are sometimes forgotten, and we can unlock knowledge and wisdom that can help guide us as we move forward in what is this most difficult and crazy maze, we call life.

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal....