"Why are you here, Manny? I am a 96-year- old man. I have nothing left to offer. Why do you keep coming to see me?"
I looked at my buddy, Joey, befuddled by his question. He had Alzheimer's disease and suffered from
progressive dementia, but his words indicated striking clarity and cognition. I gazed at his face, noticing the wrinkles in his eyes, the crevices on his forehead, and the pale color of his cheeks. It was the same face I
had seen on our first encounter, then centered on a freshly printed piece of paper. After a long morning of
training, we were given dozens of descriptions of residents with dementia, using which we were told to
choose a "buddy." As the other volunteers rushed to claim the most interesting residents, I remained, frozen
in place. I could not fathom how a single piece of paper could describe an entire person, an entire lifetime.
Before I could sort my thoughts, the nurse abruptly announced that only one resident remained, holding up
the picture of Joey. I turned to the description, which discussed his interests in baseball and his dedication
to synagogue. I knew nothing about either of those things. I began to fear I could never make a meaningful
connection with this complete stranger. I had volunteered at a nursing home before, but those residents
were healthy; visiting someone with dementia seemed so much harder. But I realized his life was also much
more difficult, and that he could benefit so much more from a true friend. I decided to at least give it a shot.
It was the best decision I ever made. Visiting Joey was certainly challenging at first. Five minutes after I
would tell him that my name was Manny and that I went to Harvard, he would ask me what my name was, and where I went to school. One time when he asked me about my turban, I was delighted to tell him about the Sikh religion, but immediately after, he asked me if I was Jewish. But the initial challenges made our relationship that much more rewarding, our differences in interests that much more complementary. I would show Joey how to use the computer to play Red Sox highlights, and he would in turn teach me what a sacrifice bunt was. I will never forget the stories we told, the laughs we shared, the music we listened to, and the discussions of religion we had on casual strolls outside. But most of all, I will never forget the time a nurse approached Joey, lightly asking him if his family still visited as well. He responded, "This is Manny. He is my family too."
- Manjinder K, Harvard College