by John C. Fitts
Edith Martin and I sat on the patio at her nursing home while she had her afternoon smoke, broken by spells of a hacking cough. Edith was originally from England, but her journey had eventually, like many others, brought her to the sunny climes of the Florida sun coast. Edith was spunky, much too alert at the time to submit to the routines and indignities of a nursing home. She complained about the food, the other residents, and the general climate that most people fear worse than death. Sensing a growing hopelessness in her, I wanted desperately to cheer her, to give her a sense of purpose at this difficult time of life.
Looking around the patio, now bathed in a warm sunlight, I noticed that the morning summer rain was still in evidence. There were small puddles spotting the pavers upon which our chairs rested. As the billows of cigarette smoke rose from the few gathered in the outdoor clusters, the puddles of water kept coming to my mind and I turned to Edith.
"Edith," I said, have you ever been caught outside in a summer shower? You know, when those first big drops of rain begin to spatter randomly. At first you almost try to dodge them one at a time, then realize that unless you reach cover, you are going to get drenched."
"Of course," she replied with a smile, "I'm from England, remember? We do rain."
"Well, you know," I continued, returning her smile, "one little drop of rain isn't going to cause any harm. But if you can't find a shelter soon, your clothes get damp and then soaking wet. The drops of rain form little puddles, then larger ones. As the rain continues to pour, there is a small flood."
"What's your point, Chaplain John?"
"Well, I think grace is something like a summer shower. Let's say that a rain drop is like a small act of kindness, or grace, if you will, such as a smile, a thank you, or saying please when you need something. Those are minute, almost insignificant things in themselves. But if you keep them up, continue them, they begin to have a cumulative effect. People begin to notice. I believe that in time these small acts of grace can make a difference in the atmosphere of a place like a nursing home."
"Do you think so?" She seemed doubtful
"Listen, Edith, do you think that any of the residents want to be here?"
"Oh," she said, "I doubt it. Who would come here by choice?"
I said to her, "I'll go you one better than that. I'll bet that even those who work here never thought when they were young that they would one day be working in a nursing home. There may be a few, of course, but most probably are driven to find work here by sheer economics. If that is true, then everyone here needs to have a change in attitude. Small drops of grace, simple acts of kindness can change a prison into a palace."
The conversation soon changed and my visit ended that day. But my mind was captured by the concept of "Grace Drops." At the next team meeting at hospice, for my devotional reflection, I shared my experience with Edith. The reaction was mixed. Some caught on and thought it was interesting and encouraging, while others got lost in the term "Grace Drops."
If the concept of "Grace Drops" had any merit, then it should work if put into practice. At another nursing home shortly thereafter, I shared this concept with another patient, Jane Booth, who also was too young and mentally aware to be content and happy in her surroundings. She enjoyed my visits and politely listened. That was good enough for me.
The next week as we began to talk, she said, "It works."
"What works?" I said.
"You know that thing you told me about last week?"
"You mean 'Grace Drops?' I said.
"Yeah, 'Grace Drops.' I tried it on my roommate. I haven't been getting along with her. I really didn't like her. Then the other day she asked me if she could borrow a pen. I smiled and said, 'yes.' She has been different since that day."
"I knew it," I said. I felt like jumping up and down.
And so Grace Drops began. I have shared the concept many times. Then in September of 2002 I began working as staff chaplain at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital. My predecessor at the hospital had circulated short stories and anecdotes, sometimes posting them in the nurse's lounges and places like that. I decided to keep up the tradition and title the encouraging stories that I found, "Grace Drops." In addition, I sent them out over the intranet to the management network, as he had done.
The response has been so positive at every level. Grace Drops have become an eagerly anticipated weekly event. Some of the stories come from my personal experience, but most arrive from unlikely sources. Almost all arrive by way of the internet or email. Any story that can fit on one page and is inspirational and encouraging has the potential for a Grace Drop. My thanks to all who have contributed.