It started out as a simple request: “Hey honey, can you get me a coffee?”
Then everyone else at her table realized their drinks needed refilling and here I am, reciting a beverage order as I walk into the pantry, trying to keep straight which drink goes to which of the four residents.

Inside the pantry, I assemble the drink order and pick them up: a hot chocolate and a cream-and-sugar coffee clutched in one hand, the two black coffees in the other. I maybe should take two trips, but I haven’t been a CNA for over five years without learning how to wrap my fingers around multiple cup handles at once. Or without learning to prop the pantry door open.

I’m on my way back, eyes focused on the hot liquid sloshing around the precariously held cups when I hear a voice I vaguely recognize, a voice I haven’t heard in a while.
I stop first, then look up. The voice belongs to a face that is also familiar: an old coworker. It takes me a good moment to come up with her name…after all, it’s been a good year since she quit and well, I have a lot of ex-coworkers.
“Cindy? Whatcha doing here?” I ask. She was a pretty good aide and she actually gave a notice before she quit, so I add: “Good to see you; you doing well?”
“Yep, I’m great,” she says. “Just visiting. Thought it was time…I can’t believe you’re still here.”
I shrug as best I can with cups of hot liquid in my hands. “Yeah, you know, I still like, so….”
It’s an odd conversation, odder still to be having with someone who left while I stayed. Speaking of odd, Cindy gives me this strangely intent look, like she’s going to say something important. It’s the kind of pause that you just can’t walk away from. Steam rises from the drinks as we both wait on her words.
“It’s funny,” she says finally. “People come and go so quickly around nursing homes, but you endure. You’re still here…and still smiling. Anyway, you look busy, so I’ll leave you to it.”
Then she darts off and I’m left staring after her. I shake my head and continue on my way. What an odd end for an odd conversation and yet as my day goes on, I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It’s still there, echoing but never fading: “You endure.” What an interesting word choice!

The oddest thing is, I’ve never thought of it like that. Never phrased it like that, in my head or in my writing. I endure.
It almost seems…bombastic for describing getting up and going to work day after day, one day at a time, as those days quietly gather into years. I’m not quite sure if the “enduring” she spoke of was in reference to being “still here” or “still smiling”, or both.
Either way, saying that I’ve endured makes it seem…heroic. A hard-won accomplishment.

If it’s heroism, then it’s a quiet sort of heroism–the kind that doesn’t lend itself well to fanfare or fame. Instead, when it receives attention at all, it comes in the form of slight surprise and a mild kind of awe.
And that’s okay, I don’t need fanfare or trumpets or applause. Quiet respect for quiet heroism is, well, rather nice. That recognition of my hard work and stubbornly-held smile is going to be with me a while, I think.

Now it’s back to enduring.

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