And Then We Danced

I’ve been going to the day program for senior citizens here in town for almost a year. We chat, I lead seated exercises, then we do a guided meditation. I have come to love these “abuelitos” dearly. So I was thrown for a loop last month when the director told me the program was being shut down.

Hogar de Cristo, the sponsoring organization, is doing some restructuring and, unfortunately, this program was one of the ones they decided to end. They are pulling back resources from the area around the capital and sending them to programs in the remoter regions of the country, where life is typically a bit harder. I’m no stranger to nonprofit management. I know that you can’t do everything for everyone. But dang it, I’m attached to these folks. The social services and social interaction they received in this program are crucial to their well-being and I am worried about what will happen to them now.

Two young children do the Chilean national dance at a senior citizen day program

Doing the Chilean national dance

Since the closure was confirmed, I tried to spend more time at the center. The abuelitos love our kids. We went as a family for the national holiday a few weeks ago, and they got a kick out of the kids’ dancing.

On Tuesday, there was a little ceremony with the participants, family members, staff, volunteers, and some senior management from Hogar de Cristo. Chileans do love a good speech, and there were six or seven to enjoy that day.

On Wednesday, the very last day for the seniors to spend at the center, they did a special lunch and then a gentleman came to sing rancheras, a style of music much beloved by the old folks. Pretty soon Juan, Willy, and Victor were out on the dance floor with different partners – myself included.

I couldn’t help but smile as we shuffled and waltzed along.

I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that this program is ending. I have felt sad, disillusioned, angry… frustrated. Some of the abuelitos have openly expressed their discontent with the closure. But for the most part they are taking it in stride.

Think about how many transitions they’ve had to go through in their lives. Goodbyes they’ve said. Homes they’ve left. Jobs that have changed. A world that has changed.

Just here in Chile – they lived through massive earthquakes in 1960, 1985, 2010. They made it through a military coup and the darkest days of the Pinochet dictatorship. Aside from these large-scale events, each of them has had to face the innumerable challenges of living in poverty on a daily basis, for 70 or 80 years. And yet they get up every day and go about their lives. What else can you do?

Dancing to rancheras

So that day, we cried a bit. We packed up the food that was left in the kitchen and passed it out to the abuelitos along with the center’s old mugs, so they could remember all the cups of tea they drank together. We ate some cake.

And then we danced. Because sometimes that’s all there is left to do.

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