My esteemed brother, John Crossley Morgan, the family prophet, titles a recent blog, “The End of Books in Print.” He claims, “One day libraries are places where books are kept in solitude, locked in safe places where neither air nor people can harm them. Libraries will be places where books are kept out of sight …. places where scholars visit to see how knowledge once was communicated in book form.”‘ When former Surgeon General Everett Koop died and went to heaven, he asked God,”Will they ever solve the health crisis in America?” God replied “Not in my lifetime!” I hope what John predicts does not happen in my lifetime!” Books in print have always been a major part of my life. When I was home bound with pneumonia as a child, books were a big part of my healing process. My once large library is now much less in size, with only books I have written, and timeless books I reread, occupy my shelves. I hold in my hand three books: a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s New Testament, published in 4 languages, an original edition of John Dewey’s The School and Society (1899). and a nicely bound copy of John Morgan’s Awakening the Soul! I am quite aware of the virtual revolution and electronic publishing, and the tempting attraction of using a Kindle. (which I will never possess, unless it is a gift). My granddaughter, Brannon, has found the best of two worlds, E books and books in print. Her room is jammed packed with books in print, as she is a voracious reader,often seen reading two books in print at the same time. and she also uses a Nook. John writes, ” I have seen the future and I am not resigned.” I do not see the end of books in print in my life time ,so will continue to be a curmudgeon bibliophile until I stand before the Lord God and the book of my life in print is read.
One of the paintings of Lester Potts that seems to be a favorite is that of sailboats. It seems some residents have actually sailed. while others remembered their service in the Navy. On one occasion, a woman began singing the old 1935 song, “Red Sails in the Sunset., far out on the sea, oh bring back my loved one home safely to me.” Later I remembered a scene from my own story. It was 1935, and I was quarantined with pneumonia. After being bed fast for several months, I was able to be up and around the house. I remember we had an old victrola in the formal parlor (where only important guests could enter). I would sneak downstairs in the old Manse, and play records. One of my favorites was, “Red sails in the sunset, far out in the sea, oh bring back my loved one, home safely to me.” I had been way out,” with pneumonia (perhaps red sails meant danger), and I hoped I would safely return home to the land of health. Isn’t it amazing how long term memories of persons with dementia can rekindle ours. Their short term memory is a thing of the past, but long term memories are there and can become present. Tell me why we persist in over-medicating persons with dementia, and not taking the time to help them recall old memories? We deprive them of their memories, and ours also.
Rick Moody edits a provocative Newsletter, Human Values in Aging. In a recent article he contrasts the views of Ezekiel Emmanuel and George Vaillant about being 90. Emmanuel said that he did not plan to live beyond 75. Vaillant disagreed, alluding to his vibrant age of 80 as a time for more writing, remarriage at age 76, and more engagement with his children and grandchildren. This is personal for me, for now I am on the other side of 85 and becoming 90 could be a realty. Being 90 can either be a blessing or a curse. Since 1975, I have written 8 books, become more engaged with children and grandchildren, and discovered new careers in working for/with hospice and Alzheimer’s. My second marriage has brought more joy than I can relate, especially now in the later years when we have become interdependent. All this is undeserved blessing/ However. being 90 can also be a curse , when frailty means becoming limited in mind and body, or faced with unmitigated pain;. Many old people are warehoused, find no purpose in living, and wait to die. For them, 90 is a curse. I still find meaning in everyday life, never use a smart phone. and get around with a walker. I am not at what Shakespeare meant by aging, “Mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” I am content to be whatever age I am, and if I make it to 90, by the grace of God, I will be eternally grateful.
It never ceases to amaze me how Lester Potts’ paintings seem to evoke responses in persons other wise silent The only words I heard Charles speak occurred one night, when he was apparently lost at “sundown.” When my wife asked him if he knew where he was, he simply said “I am where I am!” I thought that was profound, especially when many people would admit, “I don’t know where I am,” or say”I haven’t the faintest idea where I am going.” I sat in the craft room with Mary, and showed her Mr. Potts’paintings. She made few responses except to chuckle when she saw the snowman with a red hat, on skis. Trying to evoke a response from her, I asked, “Do you remember a Christmas carol about a snowman? No response. Charles, who had sat with his head down on the table, apparently asleep. suddenly, blurted out, “Frosty the Snowman!”and went back to sleep. We came to the back of the album and neared the end. No response from Mary, until a strange painting appeared. It reminded me of Herman Rorschach’s inkblot test. Psychologists used it as way to measure personality, usually by what the person saw. Mary looked at the strange art and said ” Look at the four men dressed in red.” I have no idea what the artist meant , painted near the end of his life. I saw nothing, but Mary saw four men. Amazing.
I sat with Roy, a 94 year old veteran, , experiencing some early dementia. At his ripe old age, his mind was remarkably. good. His black dog “Little Bear,” sat at his feet At first we talked about dogs and sadly he said, “Little Bear will my last dog. I don’t know which one us will go first” We looked at Lester Potts Jr.’s paintings. At time he was confused and made no comment, except to comment on how remarkable the paintings were. He resonated with the pictures of Lester in his army uniform. “I was in the US Amy too, and served overseas in WWII. I don’t recall much, but I was happy to be one of those who came home.” One of Lester Potts’paintings always puzzled me. (see photo) But what Roy saw was fascinating. He said, “Looks to me like they are burned out trees growing out of swamps. Could be they were in a forest fire.” Eureka! Made sense to me. It was a lucid moment, when he saw clearly. I was like he blind man before Jesus touched his eyes. I did not see clearly, but saw “men as trees walking.” Roy saw clearly. As I left and sauntered down the long hall, I thought of Graham Green’s novel, Burnt Out Cases. Like those burned out trees, many with dementia are “burned out cases ,” charred by the fires of a terrible disease, waiting for someone to be there for them.
One of my concerns of the later years is keeping my brain stimulated. Hunter is one of the blessings we have in our midst. He is a volunteer with Transitions Works, and is vision and hearing impaired. Yet , with the aid of his faithful dog, Atlas, he maintains a zest for life and a wonderful sense of humor we all could emulate. Using his I-phone he led s session on Proverbs from Across the World.” I had used proverbs with people with dementia, but some I never heard before. and so learned new truths. Hunter quoted proverbs such as:
“Tell me something and I will forget it. Show me something and I won’t understand, but involve me and I will get it.” (Good for working with dementia). ” Speech is silver, but silence is golden.” “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. When you die, the world cries and you rejoice.” If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come” “Scarcity creates value; plenty creates complacency.” “There is not a better mirror than an old friend.” “It is easy to bend a twig; but hard to bend an old man.” It was fitting that his favorite proverb came from Helen Keller, “Most things beautiful cannot be heard or touched, but must be felt with the heart” . It was a delightful heartfelt experience when time went much too quickly His presentations are a highlight of the week..
I sat at a table with three residents in the Memory Care Unit. I began showing them the paintings of Lester Potts Jr. It was like the tower of Babel, where language was so confounded, there was no understanding. These residents said words that had no meaning for me, but perhaps to them. One lady kept pointing at the pictures and saying short words that were beyond comprehension. Another resident pushed away and left. The third woman began flipping the pages of the album, fingering every page and tracing the artists’ work. She did repeat the artists’ name, Lester Potts! Her husband suddenly appeared and sat at the table. He said his middle name was Lester, and when the saw Mr. Potts’ picture in uniform, he began recalling his service in WW II. He seemed somewhat embarrassed by his wife’s garbled speech and abruptly left. I remained , quietly listening to his wife’s unknown speech, until she got through the whole album. We live in a hyper cognitive society, bombarding each other with endless words, often texts on cell phones, Sometimes I wonder if any real communication exists. Although there has been a disconnect in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s, we can still reach them. If there is any language at all, it is Babel revisited. Yet they are still in there, and we need to go beyond their fragmented speech to the person who lives inside.