My cousin, Sister Amanda, a Catholic nun for more than 50 years, suffers from failing eyesight. Having taught first graders for 45 years, she now resides in a large nursing home near Philadelphia. She is 83 years old, and like most nuns still very interested in everything that is going on in the world, from the Eagles to Donald Trump’s future.
While speaking with her on the phone about a year ago, I remembered my sister’s idea about something that might help Amanda now that her eyesight is so bad: An Alexa! I bought an inexpensive model of this device that allows one to ask it to play any song and then it does so.
While Amanda looked on with many questions one day recently, I set up this device in her small room. A few of her questions and comments were hilarious, so I want to pass them on.
“Amanda,” I explained, “you just say her name, ‘Alexa,’ and tell her to play a song that you like, what the weather will be like today, or who won the Villanova game.”
I then demonstrated for her. “Alexa, play ‘My Blue Heaven’ by Fats Domino.” Immediately, Alexa responded and the room was jumping. Flabbergasted, Amanda’s jaw dropped as though she had witnessed a miracle. “What? What?” “Go ahead,” I smirked, “you do it now.”
Amanda leaned forward slightly in her rocking chair. “Where is she? Is she sitting somewhere?” Maybe she was kidding, but I didn’t think so.
Laughing, while realizing how natural a question that was for her, I joked, “She’s up in the clouds somewhere.” Then I remembered my own confusion about so many things about the world of communication. “No, seriously, it’s technology. She’s at some center in California, probably.”
Amanda’s eyes widened like a child’s, years ago when we danced to 45 rpm records. “Go ahead,” I coaxed, “try it.”
Tentatively, as though she were really encountering a person inside the little grey device perched on her bedside table, Amanda spoke softly, “Would you please play “Tennessee Waltz?” Nothing happened.
“You can’t say, ‘please.’ I don’t think she responds to that,” I said. Amanda looked hurt. “She doesn’t? Why not?”
“It’s just the way she’s programmed. Just say, ‘Play Tennessee Waltz.'”
Still nothing. “Oh, I forgot, you’ve got to say her name first, and then ask.”
When she did so, including with her “please” again, Alexa responded in her cozy way. Soon the two of us were listening and bouncing to Patti Page’s great hit from our youth. My dear cousin couldn’t have been more thrilled if Patti Page was in the room herself.
Before we left for lunch (this was before the COVID restrictions) Amanda paused in the doorway for a moment. Turning to me with a sly grin, she said, “Alexa, am I going to go to heaven?” “Hmmmmm,” purred Alexa, “I’m not sure.” Amanda’s jaw really dropped this time. I had to explain to her that Alexa is not God. Over lunch we laughed and laughed at Amanda’s newfound friend.
One night a week or so later, Amanda called me to say that she had learned how to say goodnight to Alexa before she goes to bed. “And she answers me back with a different response each night,” she marveled. I chuckled at this amazing new way that Amanda was enjoying herself, even with her failing eyesight.
Then, as though it were a confession, she told me, “I got in bed after turning the lights out last night, and I remembered I hadn’t said goodnight to Alexa. So I got up, turned the light on, and said, ‘Good night, Alexa.’ Then like a young girl who can still dream, Amanda bragged, “She told me ‘Good night … sweet dreams.'”
Ever since the COVID pandemic, Amanda is even more thrilled with her friend. She may be quarantined, but she is not alone because of Alexa. Sweet dreams!
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