The Ponce de Leon, that is. The nursing home where Seb is now staying. It’s a little like Wonderland, the other side of the Looking Glass.
Sandy and I started early — 6:30AM — and got to see the day break. We filled up on lattes and soon fell into the free and unguarded chatter and effortless talk that we can do to make the time/drive easy. We were in St. Augustine a little after 10, and the temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees. Sweater weather!
We stopped at a Publix for some flowers and a little white pumpkin, then easily found our way to The Ponce, a smallish, one story facility nestled among the mossy laden oaks of North Florida. We found Seb in a physical therapy room, doing a walking exercise between 2 parallel bars. The first thing that I saw in Seb was how thin he looked, and the 2nd thing I noticed was his t-shirt. A volunteer FIRE department shirt with a graphic of a grill with steaks on it and large flames of fire surrounding the grill. He said that Danny had gotten it for him from a local fire station fundraiser. I wish I had gotten a better photo of that t-shirt. It was the introduction to a day that in many ways felt surreal. I had stepped outside of life as it usually interpreted into another place, and this was Sebastian’s gift to us.
After physical therapy Seb was brought back to his room in a wheel chair and we waited for lunch to come and talked. Seb was interested in everything that we had to say and commented often. He was very happy hearing that my last brain MRI came back clean. When he looked at me I sensed that was looking intently and that he saw me well. We read him some recent “right on” remarks from Pope Francis, we told him the funny stories that Dan Maguire is spreading around about him, and the love and regards from Esther in Alabama and so many of his friends in West Palm Beach.
The halls of The Ponce are noisy – sirens and clanging. Seb tells me that he is able to maintain a quiet inner peacefulness in the midst of the chaos and noise. He says he sleeps well. He has a beautiful view from his window that can be opened for fresh air.
Lunch is still not there and it is a little after 12. After some asking around, we find out that they want Seb to come to the dining room for lunch and that we can come too. This is when Sebastian decides that this might be a good time to bolt / escape / go out for an adventure. I’m all for it, but cooler heads prevail and we head for the dining room. As Seb is being wheeled into the dining room, he puts is feet firmly on the floor so that the chair cannot be pushed. It reminds me very much of my dog, Jubilee, when she decides she does not want to do something. Her paws dig in and there is nothing that can be done about it. I thought we were at that place with Sebastian. Cooler heads again came to the scene to convince us all that the dining room is where we should be, and somehow we get over the hump and into the dining room, seated at a table with 2 lovely women.
This is when things start to get weird for me.
Lunch was egg salad, some rye bread, little squares of beets, grapes, cauliflower, juice. Sebastian is trying his best to get whatever is on the plate into his mouth. The conversation is amusing. One of our table guests, Mrs. Paula O’Flanagan, looks at us all with profound honesty and tells us that Seb is driving her crazy because of the way he is eating (so slowly and awkwardly). She said this twice. Seb smiles. Sandy sings “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” to Mrs. O’Flannagan. We find out that she is from New Jersey. We are all laughing or growling about something. Sandy mostly laughs while I mostly growl. Mrs. O’Flanagan takes it all in with very knowing and engaging eyes. We hear some commentary from another table that we are awfully “odd”. Then a very cheery therapist comes in to give Seb some guidance on how to look at his plate before he tries to get the food to his mouth. “We” have practiced this and “We” are going to feed “Ourselves”. Why do I feel like I am in preschool? Seb smiles but Sandy thinks he is going to flick the little beet squares at the therapist.
It has taken so long to eat that now they are kicking us out of the dining room. But they want Seb to eat more, so we are moved to the physical therapy room. More guests arrive: Seb’s local friends, Tammy and Cindy, and David O’Byrne. We are all crowded into the physical therapy room with conversations going in all directions. One of the young therapists in there told me that Seb has offered to marry her! I take this literally before I realize that she has a fiance and needs someone to officiate at her wedding ceremony. It’s clear that Seb has all of the women of The Ponce totally charmed. I growl a bit more and pay attention to the other patients who don’t get so much attention. Seb smiles through his eating mode trance.
After a couple of hours, it is declared that Seb has eaten enough and we all go outside and take some pictures. It’s a little cool and Seb (and the great FIRE t-shirt) is covered up. We get Seb back into his room and down for a nap and our good-byes. John and I will be back to visit in a couple of weeks. Maybe we will be able to do a little escape adventure then.
On the drive home Sandy and I determine that Seb has become a laughing Buddha. He is definitely all there, mischievous and intelligent, even though at times it seems as if he is coming in and out of a trance. He does everything they tell him to do, but he does this in a way that he is able to maintains his dignity and strong sense of who and how he is.
I came away very grateful for the gift of Seb and the visit to The Ponce.