How We Judge Our Society
Mahatma Ghandi once said ‘You can judge a society by how it treats its’ weakest members.’ Evicting the elderly and infirmed, without notice, in the dead of winter constitutes a moral blemish on any society that would condone it. White House seniors, many in fragile health, were torn from their home, town, friends, support network and, in some cases, the only family they had; the White House family. But Stanstead showed its’ moral character and rallied to support those affected by the incident at the White House almost two weeks ago.
This story is not really about the victimization of the elderly, but our community’s support of them, our ‘weakest members’. It is about the character of our community, the social fabric we have all woven to support every member of our society. Stanstead’s White House incident was the litmus test that demonstrated how successfully Stanstead has woven this fabric and how we protected our weakest members when the need presented itself.
Unbeknownst to many, the seniors were visited by young men from Stanstead College every Thursday afternoon for well over a year. Max Daniel, Ryan Smith and Anthony Pasquale used to visit Stanstead’s White House. With consistency and reliability they came every week to offer companionship to many who had no visitors or family calling on them. These boys quietly and modestly supported those in need and in doing so, have left a meaningful mark on many of those at the White House.
This week I visited Stanstead College because it was brought to my attention that these students were upset over the eviction. They had been given no warning, were cancelled last minute and had no way of saying goodbye or having news on those seniors with whom they had become close.
Recounted to me by these young men were stories of the warm and enthusiastic reception they received each week. The room would fill up shortly after their arrival. They spoke enthusiastically of their visits and with regret of their sometimes thwarted efforts to communicate with those unable to speak. They each laughed affectionately about one senior in particular, Hazel, who was in her nineties and would always greet them and say goodbye with hugs for each of them. They spoke of being strongly affected and saddened by the death of residents in the past and also how this situation was similar. They were unable to say goodbye after the eviction and are frustrated at how the seniors were treated. Expressing empathy at what they went through, the students regret they are unable to have news or visit with them.
Originally intending to write about the young volunteers’ reaction to the White House affair, I now felt compelled to go a step further, because these boys made it clear these were meaningful relationships that had been severed. They were worried about people for whom they cared. I then decided to track down the seniors and let them know the boys were worried and wanted news. I was looking for Hazel in particular, who I found by days end sitting down to dinner in a home in Ayer’s Cliff.
It was at this point was presented with another challenge. In the confusion of the move, Hazel had lost her hearing aid. She could not hear a word I said. Determined to communicate the students’ concern, I wrote her notes on a piece of paper – but my light blue ink was illegible. I hunted down a darker ballpoint only to be told the ink strokes were too fine to read, the letters too small. So I wrote huge letters, in thick, repetitive strokes and finally got the message delivered. Hazel’s face lit up and tears came to her eyes. She immediately spoke of the boys hugging her and her eagerness to see them every week. She said she always had good visits, the boys were very nice, intelligent. She noted they were faithful in coming every week and she smiled when telling me how they would all jump up to hug her whenever she came into the room.
My visit ended with Hazel telling me to assure the boys she was okay and not to worry. Then, before rising, she wrapped her arms around herself, still with tears in her eyes, and asked me to tell them she was awaiting her next hug. She asked if I could get her a photo of them. I ended our chat promising her I would do my best.
The following morning the College collaborated by tracking the boys down and having them pose for a photo for their friend Hazel. The College is talking of arranging another visit for Hazel and her favourite boys for another hug.
Hazel tearfully reading a note from her ‘boys’ at Stanstead College.
Stanstead students Ryan Smith, Max Daniel, and Anthony Pasquale, who visited seniors at the White House every Thursday, were upset when the White House closed suddenly and concerned about the many friends they had made there.