|Lake Honor, College of the Ozarks|
When I was at the College of the Ozarks, students would drop out of school to “find” themselves. It’s not as if they were lost physically, they just couldn’t seem to decide what they really wanted to be when they grew up—if they grew up. We’ve all known someone with a big ego and a strong sense of self. We’ve met people who seemed self confident one day and uncertain the next. Then,others who never trusted their own judgment, or believed they were worthless. They couldn’t find their own value and wondered, Who am I?
Fragile egos aside, no matter how much my friends questioned who they were, they always knew their names and backgrounds—real and embellished. They knew their brothers, sisters, friends, boyfriend or girlfriend. The only thing they were unsure of was why they were on this earth and what their purpose in life was.
I dropped out of college to pursue my own destiny. My imagination has always been darned active, but for my life to have been any different is unimaginable. My life certainly didn’t follow the plans my youthful self made for my future, but I wouldn’t change any of it. The road I followed brought me to Jim and the family I cherish and the experiences that made me who I am today.
Don’t get me wrong, everything wasn’t peachy pie perfect. We hit some bumps, big and small, along the way. We made mistakes. Vietnam changed Jim, dementia changed him even more. But I don’t think Jim lost track of who he was, or who he loved, and who loved him. Even when he couldn’t say the words, his eyes would light up from time to time, and you knew he was there. Inside.
As the present slipped from his memory, he remembered the past. Jim grew up in a large itinerant family. They would pile into a car and head across the state, or country, depending on where they could find work. Home was where they were at the time—it might be a rental house, a camper trailer, a tent, under a tree, or with relatives. That kind of life might not be for everyone, but Jim saw it as a series of adventures. He loved reminiscing about the people he knew, the places he went to school, and the sites he’d seen.
So, when his short-term memory faded, he spent quality time in the glory days of his youth. He never had to find himself, because his heart was the same. A lot of things changed as Jim became more dependent on others to provide his personal care.
People often asked me if Jim knew who I was. He rarely spoke, so he didn’t call me by the wrong name. I do know that one time when I was at the Alzheimer’s Forum, someone at the long-term care facility tried to shave him, and Jim pushed the razor away. “Linda,” he said. His mom got a kick out of that. She said he didn’t want anyone else to shave him because he knew I’d be back to do it.
Jim may not have known who I was all the time, but I always knew him. I learned to love who he was through each stage of the disease. When he became more childlike, I knew his roots from the stories he had shared with me.
For those of us who have our short- and long-term memories intact, we shouldn’t question who we were. We should not just be determined to be the best person we can become when we grow up—if we grow up. Knowing just exactly who we are, our faults and our strong points, could be key to being the best person we can be today.
Copyright © February 2016 by L.S. Fisher