I had promised not to write any 2017 homilies this year given 2016’s recalcitrant machinations to last year’s goodwill messages.Sitting in my garden now however, surrounded by the aftermath of last nights New Years celebration- the abandoned empty cartridges the only reminder of the glorious though ephemeral display of an elaborately sequined sky last night coupled with the blanketed silence of snoozing revelers, – I had cause to reflect on a recent incident which I thought fitting to share on this day – one that’s often bitter sweet for me and most – pregnant with hope and cautious optimism yet wizened by weary and wary disenchantment .
Last week at the local gym, a space never failing to disappoint in the realm of psychosocial learning (the desirable weight loss yearning for moi though being the exception – hey, narcissism is fed through those air vents I swear:) with its revolving door of varied personalities as the fitness frenzy gives succor to a range of needs – from the loss of a loved one to the promise of more fulfilled life – I had chance to observe in my direct line of vision, , whilst soldiering on the treadmill, a very senior , short, wiry soul engaged in the most elegant of yoga poses. I marveled at his finesse and how he sedulously segued from one position to another.
And then he rolled over onto his tummy and lay prostrate . Just lay there…no heaving – nothing – oblivious to the beeping lights signaling circuit changes – a non stirring body amidst all round frenetic movement.
I was torn between minding my own business and intervening to check whether he was alive but thankfully after what seemed like forever, he raised his head and must have caught the look of relief that registered on my face as he then flashed a warm smile in kindred acknowledgement.
Shortly thereafter while clanging away at those unyielding machines :), I was tentatively interrupted by a friendly greeting by our playing possum yogi. He commended me on my stride on the treadmill ( I laughed inwardly because I’m quite the vagabond on the treadmill – firstly my treadmill jaunt is punctured by fumbling for the right Audio book to listen to, then the constant adjustments to the speed -treadmills do seem to get ahead of themselves don’t they?- but wasn’t going to dismiss the compliment especially when all you’ve ever heard about your gait is that you walk like a Fordsburg Kleva – the latter ‘ bounce and stoop’ due to years of being weighed down by ones towering height over your peers . )
Anyway I reciprocated the kind gesture by lauding his yoga postures and enquired after who had taught him. What follows is a beautiful message that has comforted me to no end these last two days….
It appears that his wife was a yoga instructor in her heyday who had taught him this discipline to which he ascribed his youthful 80 year old body and spirit! . He then mentioned that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago . I could only surmise ,based on my experience of watching a movie called ‘Away from her’ (2006) and also knowing a once vibrant, articulate, multi-linguist family friend who had only recently succumbed to this condition, how devastating this illness could also be on loved ones….
Yet he displayed no sense of despair – in fact his eyes lit up when speaking about her, commenting on her striking beauty even at this age, and their joyful times spent together – theirs a marriage of 60 years! He was merely reciprocating her generosity of spirit she had shared with him all these years…and shouldered no burden .
‘Contented dementia’ was the term he used to describe her stage of Alzheimer’s and informed me about this alternative approach used to interact with patients of this disorder….You use triggers relating to past experiences of joyful memories …always using statements , never questions so as to avoid aggravating the person – so you basically use the past to make sense of the present.
He was fortunate to have a groundswell of triggers….
I drank up his words, inspired by the connection that some souls are blessed with and thankful that I had had the opportunity to be quenched by his share…
And whilst not all of us may be in the position to build memories with a particular being or a beloved , as Erich Fromm says :
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an ordination of character which determines the relatedness of the person to the whole world as a whole, not toward one object of love”
― Erich Fromm
Here’s wishing you all lots of triggers for that period of senectitude (this weeks word of the day…meaning the last stage in old age) . I just received mine!