I am perusing Ram Dass's book, Still Here, about life after a stroke. I have seen him speak a few times since his stroke and it is fascinating to be part of what he has learned.
One thing I note in this book is there has been a reverence in the past and in some countries still, for the wisdom of elders. I think we need to continue cultivating that, especially as I enter now the age of wisdom.
"A few years ago I visited a village in India where I had spent a great deal of time. I visited the house of a dear friend who said to me, "Oh, Ram Dass, you're looking so much older!" Because I live in the United States, my first reaction was defensive; inwardly, I thought to myself, "Gee, I thought I was looking pretty good." But when I paused to take in the tone of my friend's voice, this reaction melted instantly. I heard the respect with which he'd addressed me, as if to say, "You've done it, my friend! You've grown old! You've earned the respect due an elder now, someone we can rely on and to whom we can listen."
"Because we are so identifed with our thoughts and feelings, and so sure that they and only they tell us who we really are, it's very hard for us not to panic when our minds slip. And yet there are cases in which what we call senility, is, in fact, a process that need not be so frightening. As Frances, a resident in a nursing home said, "Lack of physical strength keeps me inactive and often silent. They call me senile, but senility is just a convenient peg on which to hang non-conformity. A new set of faculties seem to be coming into operation. More than at any other time of my life, I seem to be aware of the beauties of our spinning planet and the sky above. Old age is sharpening my Awareness." In other words, what appears to be loss may in fact be transformation, if we allow the mind to change without fear.
There is an award-winning film, "Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, that I love for its honesty and its ability to awaken. The writer-director chronicles the advancing stages of Alzheimer's Syndrome in her mother, at the same time recording her own reactions to this illness. Finally, when it becomes too dangerous for the mother to remain in her own apartment, the daughter moves her to a nursing home for patients with Alzheimer's.
During the admissions process, the head of the nursing home tells the daughter not to leave anything from the past with her mother - not even her clothes. This seems harsh at the time, but the daughter does as she's asked. When she returns the next day, she finds her mother wearing a man's sweatshirt, and carrying a pocketbook with one penny in it. The daughter suddenly realizes that her mother is quite happy, now that there's no one around to remind her of what's she forgotten. The daugher realizes that her loving attachment to the mother she's known has only prolonged her mother's suffering. In time, she learns to relax her attachment and to dance with her mother's consciousness wherever it might flow. In the last scene, the mother is walking down the corridor, swinging her pocketbook, and singing, "I'm freeee. I'm freeee!"
Perhaps dementia returns us to the childhood games of dress-up and imaginary friends. Perhaps we can see it differently and give ourselves more freedom of movement and consciousness, now, too. How many times a day might we sing, "I'm freeeee!"