I had a meltdown this morning!  It was brought on by a TV commercial for something called a Perfect Polly Pet.   I was surprised by the energy with which I shouted, “No!  No!  No! No! No!  and shut off the TV.  Perfect Polly is a pretend parakeet that sits on a perch and looks quite real sitting in a cage.  When you enter the room, Perfect Polly chirps and turns its head and waggles its tail feathers.  It requires no care, no food, no clean-up, and stays quiet all night.  It is suggested  as the perfect companion for someone you love, at only $14.99.  My immediate thought was, “Please don’t give me a plastice bird for my birthday!”  Anything that is supposed to keep me company needs at least a spark of life.

O.K., so I over-reacted.  But I would be entranced by a battery-operated bird for about a minute.  I am reminded of the prisoner in solitary confinement talking to the critter crawling on the floor (an ant? a cockroach?  a spider?) saying, “Please don’t go away.”  He was hungry for the presence of another living thing.

Every senior person in every nursing home in this affluent country has his/her own TV to keep him “company.”  And, yes, TV does while away the time.  You get to know the personalities on the programs you watch and it is almost like having friends visit.  In fact, some folks are so dedicated to their favorite programs so that if a friend should actually visit in real life they can’t turn off the TV long enough the pass the time of day with their visitor.  What bothered me about Perfect Polly was the artificiality of it all.  Please, I’d like something REAL in my room–and by real I mean alive.

If you visit or call your  loved one often enough so that you feel no guilt, what might comfort them in their lonely hours?  Many dote on their dog or cat.  If that’s not practical,  how about a gerbil or a goldfish?   Goldfish live a long time.  My idea of a really fun gift would be a guppy — a pregnant guppy!  In a bowl, of course.  With fish food.  And if that went well, next time, after the babies are born, a flashy male guppy to flirt with the female!  And maybe a couple of snails to clean the fishbowl.   It could happen that a whole new enjoyable hobby would develop.  Or it could happen that  after going to all the trouble of buying a guppy and fish stuff for a loved one they would really rather have had a Perfect Polly Pet!

Shut-ins usually enjoy plants.  A plant requires little care, and it might even do something, like grow or bloom.  I still have the begonia that was in my mother’s room when she died ten years ago and I look forward to it blooming every springtime.    My spider plant  makes new spiders regularly.  I also have some air plants that Wendy sent from Florida two years ago.  One was blooming when I received it and made six babies (which I delivered and replanted) before it died.  Living things do have habit of dying now and then but they give you something to watch and care for in in the meantime.

I noted when my daughter, Peggy, died I found plants and flowers strangely comforting.  After a long cold snowy winter there comes an impatience to get outside, dig in the dirt, and put in at least some tomato plants and basil.    There seems to be a healing power  in nature as Bryant notes in Thanatopsis. He was only 17 when he wrote this:

To him who in the love of nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty; and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy that steals away
Their sharpness ere he is aware.

We admire the work of the craftsman in a mosaic, a fine piece of furniture, a quilt or sculpture.  I think perhaps the things of nature are comforting because we know that they did not just happen on their own.  They speak of a designer of infinite creativity, beauty, and power, beyond our understanding but there.

I am reminded of the little girl who did not want to be left alone at bedtime.   Her mother explained that she wouldn’t be alone.  God would be right there with her all the time.   “But I want someone with skin on!” she exclaimed.

It’s all very well to tell the lonely person that God is right there, with them.  Even persons who sometimes feel the presence of God only do so now and then.  In the Old Testament days people might really believe the stories about how God made the world and that he spoke through the prophets, and gave the Ten Commandments, but still God was invisible and for the most part silent.  I think perhaps God recognized our need for a “God with skin on” when he sent Jesus Christ.  He was like us, in all things save sin, walked the walk, suffered and died.  We could relate.

“Into the hand that made the rose, shall I with trembling fall?”

Even the Perfect Polly Pet had a designer.   But it doesn’t even begin to compare with a single rose.