Memory

"I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened."   

        Mark Twain

Autobiography

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The Blue Cap

She wears a dark blue raincoat on this cloudy day, and a lighter blue cap, something out of the sixties. I can imagine her then, a young woman, wearing one to a party, dazzling with her golden hair and brilliant smile, charming them all.

Now her hair is white. And white tennis shoes. Always the white shoes.

And alone. Always alone. Except for the dog.

Her dog is smallish and also white, like most of the dogs in this community. For some reason, they are the canine of choice, maybe because they don’t eat much or fit just so on an eighty-year old lap.

As she walks, she sways side to side. Maybe her hips don’t work as they used to or she is shielding her knees. Still she walks. Twice a day. Every day. At a good pace relatively. Holding tight to the leash. As though something about it keeps her upright.

I walk past her and smile, saying Good Afternoon. She doesn’t seem to recognize me, though we have passed a few times before. Her face brightens and she smiles, but she doesn’t speak back. Unused now to speaking to anyone, except her children on the phone every few weeks.

She is alone. Always alone. Except for the dog, who is now the beneficiary of all the love and care she has stored up since her husband passed.

So she walks every day. Rain or shine. In peril of falling every step it seems to me. I worry for her.

She is alone. Yet there are many like her here in this community. She passes them every day. They have never spoken yet they know each other.

As she passes me, I turn and watch for a second.

Maybe this is not her story. Maybe she has a family close to her, who visit most days, like my next door neighbor. Maybe her husband does the laundry and she walks the dog for exercise. I don’t really know.

But as I imagine her, she is a reminder.

And a warning.

And an inspiration.

I will find my blue cap.

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The Jesus of Silver Spring

In my novel The Island of Always, Lena (my protagonist) compares her ex-husband to Jesus—in that he loves everyone, just no one in particular (meaning her).

I was thinking about that today as a friend and I were exchanging emails on the subject of being alone later in life (I'm 63, and have been alone or on my own or however you want to put it for some years). My friend and I both agreed that writing (which is what we do, or at least how we think of ourselves) plays a part in that, both as a prerequisite, solitude being implicit in the writing life, and as a proxy, providing the joy and meaning that might otherwise come from companionship. 

Then I thought about Lena's line, and it occurred to me that there might be another alternative: compassion. Or perhaps the more personal counterpart: kindness. Maybe being kind to others, not just to other people, but to all the life around you, generates in you some of the same well-being that partnership might. It’s more spread out, certainly, easier to miss, no doubt. But maybe in aggregation enough to keep the heart alive. 

Perhaps in the end it all comes down to endorphins and complex neurochemical reactions. Or maybe there is a higher accounting, a karma to be built. But I wonder if the choice to engage with your little patch of the world in this way, each day, to smile at a neighbor, give a treat to a dog, or leave bread out for the birds and squirrels, can sustain the heart through the solitary years ahead. 

I hope so.

Hearts are important. 

 

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No Such Ordinary Life

 

I had a nice lunch catching up with an older cousin.  Her father is my mother’s eldest brother.

 

In 1998 he had a stroke and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s/dementia.  Seventeen years later he lies in his bed without movement.

 

He was the first among the six siblings of my mother to fall ill.  Since then, five have passed away.

 

My uncle lies in his bed day in and day out fed by a feeding tube.  The rest of his body works fine.  No complications and no machines necessary.

 

He has caregivers round the clock and he is surrounded with family however, no one knows whether his mind understands what’s going on.

  

Life cut him short at 70 but didn’t cut all the way.  His eldest daughter looked at me and asked, “I’ve often wondered what God’s plan is for him.”

 

Marriages have happened, children, grandchildren coming and going with a father, a grandfather and yet without.

 

I don’t think anyone wishes for this kind of a life.  I remember my uncle as gentle and soft spoken.

 

He certainly does not deserve this kind of a life.  It takes incredible strength and faith to understand and accept.

 

I had to put this down in writing to remind myself that the gift of Life is God’s not ours.  We live on borrowed time.

 

It’s up to God to determine when it’s time to call it a day.

 

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