Sara’s Chapter

Sara’s Chapter

I’m in Maine. I am looking out the window at the ocean and the sky. There is no sun or sparkling water. Today it’s just gray everywhere. Tomorrow will rain but next week the sun returns – guaranteed. It will lift our hearts and the gray will be a distant memory carrying no residue of worry or fear. As I think of your journey this evening, you are still exploring high school and getting to know yourself. Of the four of you – Ariel, Alia, Kayla and yourself – you might be the most sensitive of a group that majors in a bravado which covers and protects a well of sensitivity, tears and a desire to love deeply, fiercely and loyally. What an irreplaceable and invaluable gift that is. I love you all for that and I pray that none of you ever compromise, belittle it or allow anyone else to belittle it. I thank your mom for allowing me the gift of being your pretend dad in your earliest years. I thank you too, of course, but you were so delightfully **** and cute that the truth is you didn’t have much choice in trusting, a wee bit, the guy who played touch football with you and your sisters using an extra diaper. (yes, it was clean) as the football. I spanked you too as I’m sure you remember – out of love and concern, but you know that too. However, I now seek your forgiveness for my cardinal sin – you know what it was…taking away and losing your binky. I think that I took Alia’s away many years earlier as well but I’m not sure. I know a side of you that maybe some don’t know. If I am wrong and overreach here I’ll blame the dementia but I’ll give it a go. Number One – you have great vision into the desires of your own heart. When you were young and now, to some degree, it’s your affinity with the world of style and fashion that comes unadulterated and brightens your spirit as well as those around you when you dip into and use this talent and gift. Number Two – I think you are brave. There is bravery to be raised by your mom only – additional responsibility to be sure, the need to be mature before your time as well. Seeing what some fail to see because others are mean, not fair, or unforgiving and battling how to retain your values without having to change the whole world takes courage. Oh, you have your fears like the rest of us, but I believe your bravery will always surmount your trials and obstacles. I remember our Jesus magic shows where, at such a young age, you took the stage with your fat old uncle. If that’s not brave, nothing is. I don’t have to caution you that the world is, at times, a cold and unfriendly place. You know that you have a friend in me for a while, but a friend forever in your Creator that can bring a sunrise after gray days. Oh, God has plans for you young lady – plans to prosper you, not to harm you. If you search for Him with your entire heart, the promise God offers is that you will find the Creator in all His magnificence and he will teach you amazing, unimaginable things. This dementia will create distance between us as time wears on, but I will remember in my soul how kind and gentle you are – calling me for breakfast or dinner. Your commitment to do good is ingrained and a direct tribute to your dad, who had that same passion for doing right amid the doubters. My love for you is no less than my love for my own daughters. Amen (which means so be it). I hope you like your chapter.

Fred

Fred
He was a man handsome in his build. No sign of the paunch most men his age have by the time they reach his age of 75ish. White hair with only minimal receding, looking unkempt as if by the time he was ready to comb his hair, he had forgotten the task. His way of dressing reminded me of a man on the golf course with colors purposely a bit bold, but matching in a way that was familiar to this white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. He, I ccame to know bit later, was an Episcopalian priest. He didn’t tell me that he was, I saw his picture in his shared room at the nursing home. He never really came out and agreed that he was when I saw the long white church garb with a band of colored cloth worn around his neck with the two ends loose in front decorated with a cross.
I brought him an Episcopalian prayer book. When I asked him questions about his church, he searched his drawer next to the bed and found a brochure answering frequently asked questions about his denomination. It felt like an act of kindness to me.
He needed help most of the time, getting to his room. His dementia had progressed to the point when he would be confused as to the purpose of his nimbly walking the hallways. He would get stuck, standing in the hallway, quite immobilized and unable to take the next step. “Walk with me, Fredrick”, and he would begin, happy and relieved to have a purpose again.
Early on in this four week adventure, he confided to me that he walks at night as well. He doesn’t always recognize his room and can walk unannounced into another person living with dementia’s room. This is usually followed by turbulence. He said, under his breath, while we were sharing a pizza, that I didn’t want to know all the goings on. His tome was salacious, but his intent was obscure. Was He enlisting my help? Did he want me to jump in and beg for details? Was he testing me and my comfort in talking about personal sexual matters? My dementia brain knew a play was being made, but I couldn’t move through which strategy I wished to respond, so I opted to just let it go.
The pinnacle of our relationship occurred one day when he was stuck again, looking pained as well as confused. He swung out one arm and made a dramatic noise that was sort of like ‘boka’. It wasn’t threatening so I copied him by doing my own ‘boka’ kicking out my arm. In then a Godly moment, we almost skipped up the hallway, like Dorothy and her friends on the yellow brick road. Only adding ninja moves along the way. It was an unmistakable bubble of joy as we strutted our stuff. We were in the moment as they say.
The following Sunday I went to church services there at the rehabilitation center. Rehabilitation really was a misnomer because many of the folks were in different stages of dementia. None of them lacking a sense of humor. When we first met, Fred asked me to call him Fredrick, not Fred which sort of belied our relationship. It was one of friendship but skewed in the fog of discernment which we both traveled. 
The day I visited with my daughter, Fred asked to speak with me privately as he needed to tell me something. He said in a whisper that was louder than a whisper, that he liked young boys and did I have a son. I tried the strategy of ignoring that remark and moved to introduce him to my daughter. He followed, whispering in a real whisper that I shouldn’t tell her what we had just talked about.
Days later I walked him back to his room that had a big sign with his name on it. He asked me to sit on his roommate’s bed, who was nowhere to be found, and he suddenly went to his knees and raised his hands in supplication to God. I didn’t understand any of his words but I hope he made peace with God.
Yesterday, I went to work and the Fred’s name was no longer on his door. His bed had been stripped. The priestly books and pictures cleared out. My buddy, Mr. Black said he didn’t like to talk about it, but the police took him away. No one spoke of it. I didn’t inquire of the head nurse, I believed Mr. Black.
I don’t know why God put Fred in my life. He was nicer than Fredrick the priest. I hoped he confessed to God the sore in his soul. May we do the same? I list child predators as folks I detest in my prayer journal. I fight to pray for them rather than hang the vestments of hatred around his neck. Like the most righteous person- how about Mother Teresa, you, me and Fred are all just folks who have done bad stuff and need forgiveness. 
I can’t imagine how the criminal justice system will manage this. Fred is vulnerable in his dementia state and how that will enter into his crime is yet to be seen. May we pray for his forgiveness and justice for his victims.
  

Dear God from me.

Dear God, From Me
Dear God,
I feel badly that my relationship with you has been sometimes from a distance. Perhaps I keep part of my life at a distance from you all the time. But, you know this and will receive this letter nonetheless. I was in church on Sunday and the pastor said that he wasn’t looking forward to death. He shook his head and looked down. He just wasn’t looking forward to it. Oh, but I am. Death seems to be so underrated. I am thankful for the life you have given me, the lessons you have taught me, even the discipline you gave me. Running Emily Fisher for fourteen years was the best job anyone could ever have. It was not only the best job, it was the best life—a limitless wife, children, family. And, a left handed three point shot last year. So thankful am I, but I can’t wait to go to work for you in heaven. They say all the time that it was his time to die or conversely, it wasn’t his time to die. What do those things mean? It’s a backhanded acknowledgment that there is a God, right? I mean, who sets the clock on life? If all of this—this existence and universe—is just a random batch of molecules, what does this sort of timing mean, what could it mean? If you and I concede that someone sets the clock, does this someone (whatever version of a higher power you believe in) do it individually for each of us? Yes, you and I might say. Is there some algorithm, some scientific correlation of data and genetic material and environmental influences collected progressively until some red light blinks off? Does the clock setter have no sense of timing? Of romance? I just want to tell you, my God does. I need her to. My spirit cries out for him to. Every sunset speaks to me. Every child’s breath is a resounding chorus. Every small miracle that we chalk up to coincidence or luck or our own intellect is God patiently whispering. I’m the one who made your daughter’s toothache disappear, found you a loving wife, made your mailwoman a graduate of Emily Fisher Charter School so every day would sparkle a little. I can’t wait to see you in heaven, God, at full bloom. I think I will fall to my knees in tears and in thankfulness. I remember all so well that you haven’t welcomed me because of anything I have done, but despite everything that I have. See you, when you are ready. Maybe death is for us when you have finished with us on Earth, when we have discarded as much pride and sin as we have been able to in the process. Life is great. Death is greater. No matter how or when I get there. Joyful, prayerful, thankful, no matter what, waiting on your, my God!

Three Real Life Angels

Thank You
I have been given a gift of meeting three women in my lifetime who glowed with a Godly spirit.  I didn’t just know it to be so in my mind, but in my whole spirit as well.  I was warm on the inside and bursting at the chest.  There was no mixture of admiration and ambition or any other worldliness. It was pure love I felt on approaching so full and enveloping.  Time played no role.  The overflowing came as we met not because of who we were or how long we knew each other.  It was too powerful to touch hands.  Sitting in its midst was breathtaking.  The memory of each exchange is as clear as if it was happening right now.  These are soul memories – spirit memories – that are not dependent on cognitive abilities.  For those with dementia, I suggest that worship without memory is therefore not only possible but may be more powerful without the interference of broken hearts or confused minds.
I was about twenty and working on a mayoral campaign for Jimmy Smith in Port Gibson, Mississippi.  After the polling was closed, we met in a church where we found out sadly that he had lost after so much dedication and effort.  I was feeling very low when an older woman who I had never met came up to console me.  It was her town, her postponement of empowerment, but she reached through it all and gave me warm words of encouragement which hardly sounded like they came from her mouth but rather from the air around her.  She left me with a soul memory that lasted forty plus years – a lifetime.
I went to Laura Steward’s house, after her family accepted my request to meet with her, to ask whether I could name a new Christian school after her that I was starting up.  Neither her nor her family knew me well, if at all.  She was sitting on the corner of the couch and I pulled up a chair.  We began some small talk as I explained why I was there, but I remember like it was today that my words seemed to be inconsequential – meaningless really.  She was looking into my soul.  It was not scary, but rather powerful as her essence explored mine.  She didn’t make her mind up – she made up her soul.  I was fifty and knew it was different than all the school lessons and lawyer closing statements.  It was timeless – uncluttered by equivocation just like Mississippi.
When I was sixty-six, I met Bertha Joy at a dining room table in Courtland Nursing Home located in Ellsworth, Maine.  She was going on ninety-five and stood six feet 2 inches tall.
I sat down next to her and was surprised when she started a conversation with me.  Somehow, we started talking about basketball – which is a sport I love – and she raised up her hands remembering how she used to rebound.
Two years later, I visited Courtland and found her in about the same spot, but she looked very tired – staring blankly into space.  I said, “Good morning, Bertha Joy.  It is so nice to see you.”  Slowly she turned and asked, “How do I know you?”  I then said, “I used to call bingo there.  You prayed with my daughter for my grandkids to be Godly prayers.”  We also spoke of other things, then I got up to leave.  With my back to her and at the door, she said “basketball”.  I was stunned and said “yes” with a glow in my spirit, as was her memory.

Little signs of progression

Little Signs of Progression
Maybe I focus on it too much but since the diagnosis a year ago, I’ve wanted to be able to calculate how fast the dementia is progressing.  Part of it is for planning purposes – what is the next move?  But another part is pure lack of faith.  God’s got this – his timing is perfect, so why do I want to edge God out of the process by timing it all?
You think “God’s timing is perfect” is one of those phrases that people use and hope it’s true, but they don’t entirely believe it.  Hope it – sure, trust it – well, (like me) maybe not as much as hope.
But, I’ll show you how God’s timing has been extraordinary for me just in the past few years.  Check this out:
1. Dad dies on March 30, 2011.
2. Fisher closes in June 2012, before violence.
3. Bought Maine house in August 2012 because of Dad.
4. Sydney dies in August 2014.
5. Dementia diagnosis in October 2014.
6. Maine as the place to get healthy in March 2015.
The sequence of the above, if twisted in any way, causes vastly different consequences.  I am thankful that God ordered it that way.  But, back to the little signs:
1. How about coming downstairs in the morning and the place looking as if someone had a party the night before – cabinet door open and stuff not put away.  Last night was me, but the “sunsetting” me – a dementia term for low level functioning in the evening.
2. Filling up the coffee pot twice within 30 seconds with no memory of the first fill-up.
3. A guy at the men’s Bible study group making a simple play on words and me wondering for a week what in the world he was talking about.

Grant

Grant I repeatedly surprise myself about my connection to Grant. Tania Grant. Months go by without a word of conversation, but when it occurs, its lovely warm, like we’ve been childhood friends. It’s weird, I really can’t explain it. Am I secretly attracted to her like a girlfriend-nope. Is she a mother figure for me-nope. Is she a colleague exploring the esoteric of anything-no. The least I can do, is that there was a moment we shared that was so real and deep, seared into my heart memory that creates a foxhole trust no matter how different or distant we are or become. I’m not going to reveal the moment, but she knows it. I cried quite unexpectedly and was embarrassed. I’m not sure whether she did but it didn’t matter. She revealed to me an unexpected dream she had about her future that touched something deeper in my heart-maybe my soul. That was so authentic, therefore strong and vulnerable that it makes up the DNA (hate the word use) of our connection. (I’ve avoided the relationship because it just doesn’t fit at all. We have much more and much less at the same time.) I will reveal this. She is a basketball player of some renown locally and professionally. Across from the school on Waven St. in the gym that classically had all the seating in a wraparound balcony over the court-we find ourselves in a torrid three on three game playing for the million dollar bragging rights. She is taller than I, wider and about as strong. I guarded her, and a bit into the game, I was conflicted on how to physically guard this female basketball player without inappropriately touching her chest area. Boxing out, grabbing for a loose ball, keeping her from cutting to the basket became a burdensome quandary. I finally turned to her and said, “Look I don’t know how to guard you like I would a man because you are a woman. I’m going to guard you and forget you are a woman. You ok with that?” She paused for a second and shrugged and we went back to pushing, shoving and elbowing. I can’t remember who won, ask her. She might lie, though.

Super Bowl 2018

Super Bowl 2018
Today is February 4, 2018 and Super Bowl LII which will start at 6:30pm.  My dad would have been one hundred years old on July 24, 2018.  We watched around 200 Eagles’ games together and today they are in the Super Bowl.
We always sat in the same comfortable blue and white sofa chairs every game.  In plenty of time before the game, I would drive down from my new home town in Trenton, New Jersey to arrive at the independent living condominium.  No interruptions during the game were permitted except in rare occasions during half time when Pop might have a dollop more of Canadian Club Whiskey.  It was a moment of communion born of his difficulty getting up and a comradery defined not just by our growing father-son bond, but because we both bled green and knew the Eagles’ fight song.
There was another tradition kept on these Sunday afternoons beyond our favorite lucky chairs.  We would watch the game on tv with the national announcers who were careful to be neutral – by their definition.  We would roll our eyes when they commented on the Eagles and know that they just didn’t get Philadelphia, the Eagles or their quarterbacks.  (Pop had known each of them since the 1950s.  Their names were like old friends – Norm VanBrocklin, Sonny Jerguson, Norm Snead, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Tommy Thompson.)
The tv sound was turned off accordingly.  We listened to the play by play and colorful nuances on the radio languishing joyfully in the commentators Mike Quick and the legendary Eagles Hall of Famer, Merrill Reese.  They will be calling today’s game too.  This is the Eagles’ third time to the Super Bowl – no victories, rings or Lombardi Championship Trophy.
The ritual of watching could be tense with groans and “how could they…”.  Laughter was not usually appropriate, except when we would enter the gray zone together simultaneously.  We would not know that we were entering this cognitive twilight until we were already there.  The only way out was to hit ourselves on the forehead and chuckle.
Naturally, you would see that the tv and radio had commercial breaks at the same time – halftime, timeouts, etc.  The tv would have a Budweiser commercial on and the radio would be selling the latest cars.
We would squint at the tv and both strike ‘I don’t get it’ poses with a side glance, because the audio was cars and the visual was beer.  We couldn’t understand how in the world that could be.  Twenty plus times it would happen over the years and we would keep falling for it.
The Eagles won their first Super Bowl today, with a trick play on the goal line.  Pop could have made that play up when we played touch football in the yard or as quarterback of the 1940 Princeton team.  Pop, here is to you in Heaven.  We enjoyed it like the old days even though you are in Heaven with the greatest play caller.
(P.S.:  I knew better than to watch the commercial.)