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Saturday, October 8, 2011

How Horror Helps Facilitate Happiness


               Another Tuesday morning seemed to roll around. My schedule seems to be working itself out; I did not wake up incredibly fatigued as I have been the past early Tuesday mornings. In fact, I gave myself enough time to enjoy my Lucky Charms this morning without scarfing it down in my timed three minutes and fourteen seconds. It dawned on me that it was cloudy, yet again, and by the time we reached Mercy Neighborhood Ministries (MNM), the sun had peeped out. More residents of the immediate area were outside, maybe as a result of the beautiful weather. I could not tell. The drive was more enjoyable this go-around; the scenery was livelier in autumn and the community in north Philadelphia appeared to be appreciating it as much as I was.
               The gang was finishing breakfast as we rolled up at nine o’clock. The receptionist greeted us as friendly as ever, and collectively, my service partners and I replied in a cheery manner. The familiarity of routine calmed any nerves that I previously had in my new environment. To say that I was comfortable alongside Paul, the grumpy trickster of the crowd, would be an understatement. I could sense when he wanted to call me out for looking at him. But I would not give him the satisfaction of making a wise-crack because I would look away before we would make eye contact.
               Even as delectable as Paul sounds, he has an angry, disgruntled side. I personally find this characteristic of his to be a reality check; he is not an incompetent senior citizen whose senile persona leaves him with nothing to do but smile and crack jokes. If anything, Paul acts like an arrogant sixteen year old. He knows he is good company, yet he plays hard to get. Because he acts more unpredictably than not, I am consequently drawn to his rollercoaster-like attitude.
               The same is to be said for Ms. Caroline and Ms. Shirley; both women lack this lackadaisical trait that so many residents at a nursing home had that I volunteered during the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program. My take on why there are many engaged, energetic members of the MNM is that they choose to attend the programs offered. There are no residents at MNM; everyone chooses to come. I also believe that one of life’s lessons is that one earns their keep from their hard work; you only get what you put in. Since the MNM members have led demanding, urban lifestyles, I think they understand that they would be wasting their own time if they did not participate in any of the day’s activities. Ergo, they are all working hard on their puzzles, praying in the prayer circle, and engaging one another in the most pleasant tones.
               This past Tuesday, Ms. Barbara, the coordinator, was not present. Ms. KayKay was taking over for the time being. It was movie day. I was curious to see what we would end up watching, hoping that it was not going to be a black and white film with some actor I would not recognize. As I sat next to Ms. Caroline in the cafeteria, after she informed about the recall on cantaloupe that I was oblivious to, (thank you university for that tip,) she started listing the movies she brought. Within the list, there was nothing but thrillers and action packed movies; Diehard 2 seemed to be the most moderate. Oh, and there was of course Titanic, but when Paul overheard that was an option, he booed. Shocked at the movie choice of an elderly woman, I decided whatever the members chose would be completely fine with me!
               Mr. Brooks was picked. The back of the movie box claimed that it was one of Kevin Costner’s finest films. It also gave a brief description of a plot in which a psychopathic killer cuts loose and enjoys killing for the excitement. “Hmmm,” was all that I could think. In the past, when I volunteered at summer camps for children, you obviously would not show an R-rated movie to a young audience. Subconsciously, I assumed the same rule would be applied in this instance with an older audience. But precedent depicted that this was not the first time the MNM members watched an action packed, potentially gory movie.
               What I found throughout the twisting plot, the character development of Kevin Costner’s psychopathic killer, and the odd, dark sarcasm that repeatedly showed up as an underlying theme was that different things make different people happy. In the instance of most eighteen year olds, thrillers are enjoyable to watch, especially the ones with many twists and turns. When I realized that I was enjoying the movie, I could not help but wonder if the members on my left and right who were also sitting around the TV were enjoying this great film. They were. Some more than others, like Paul and Ms. Shirley. But to my surprise, as a whole, the group appeared to love the gore and excitement.
               I found out that day that MNM truly catered to the likes of many of its members. With smaller numbers than most nursing homes, the group of members are more affiliated with the decision making process in what their daily activities are. I remember Ms. Barbara explaining to me on our service test-run how the members can choose to not participate in any of the activities and that the schedule can change in an instant if the general consensus shows that no one wants to participate in the upcoming activity. I personally think, with some reflection, that the power to still choose gives many of the MNM members happiness. While various activities will always please some participants more than others, I think their ability to make decisions empowers them. What I have found in the members’ comings and goings is the limitation on their decision making; many of them are bussed over to MNM for the day, and then taken back to their homes. As a college student, I find that very confining. Yet, when they choose to come to MNM, they are offered an array of activities for the day, and I feel deeply obligated to ensure that the activities I help with are the best they can be.
               Even if it is a horror film in which only Paul, Mr. Cranky, is left to cackle insanely over the mutilation of various characters on the screen, I found that allowing for him to choose to watch the movie made all the difference. So every time blood splattered on the screen, I heard this maddening laugh in the back of the room, coming from a very entertained individual…

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