Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Mechanical Groundhog? The Shadow Knows

I saw a news article that PETA wants to replace Punxsutawney Phil with a mechanical groundhog. Call me a traditionalist, but I can’t picture a mechanical groundhog heralding the onset of spring.

With Groundhog Day coming up soon, my thoughts have turned to shadows. Shadows are personal, individual and attached to us for life. A shadow is mysterious and much more than a patch of shade. Sometimes a shadow seems to have a life of its own.

I conducted my own un-scientific experiment when I was a child. I really thought if I moved fast enough, my shadow might not make the same motion.

It does no good to run from your shadow. It’s always right behind you, touching you, taunting you.

We can cast a shadow or have a shadow cast over us. The biggest shadow in my life was when Jim developed dementia. Sometimes I felt like burrowing into a hole and hiding from the shadow.

Just like the groundhog, we have to face our real and metaphorical shadows. When I was younger, I was always confused about how the whole shadow thing worked on Groundhog Day. Doesn’t it seem more logical that if the sun shines it is an indication of better weather? That’s not how it works though. If the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, spring is right around the corner.

I’ll have to admit that I disagree with PETA on a lot of issues, but this one is just over the top. Let’s face it—the job market is limited for groundhogs, and Punxsutawney Phil has the best one of all. If I were Phil, I’d be mad as blazes that PETA wanted to ruin the cushiest gig known to groundhogs worldwide.

Life might be tough for a lot of groundhogs, but Phil is an exception. He lives in a heated burrow and only has to show up for work one day a year. Almost makes you wish you were a groundhog, doesn’t it?

All the regular groundhog’s hearts must be filled with envy for Phil’s so-called unethical treatment. Maybe PETA should ask the official representative of the Groundhog Club to interview a few of the lowly groundhogs. Since the groundhog guy understands “groundhogese” he might be able to convey their true opinion of Phil’s unethical treatment.

Groundhog Day is steeped in tradition and folklore, and Phil is the groundhog on the most watched list. Come on, PETA, don’t you know the whole country is on edge waiting for Phil’s prediction?

Did you know that 90% of the time, the groundhog sees his shadow? I sure hope Phil doesn’t see his shadow this year. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if ice storms, blizzards, and frozen water pipes are shoved forward to next winter.

There are a few things you don’t do in life. At the top of the list is “Don’t mess with groundhogs”. OK, so maybe it isn’t at the top of the list, but on February 2, it should be.

Jim used to give a crazy laugh and in a deep voice proclaim: “The Shadow Knows!” One day when I asked him what the heck that was supposed to mean, he explained that “The Shadow Knows” was a radio show he listened to when he was a kid. Well, just like the old radio program, the shadow knows what the weather will be. The imposter’s shadow would not be the same as Phil’s, and Mother Nature would not be amused.

Groundhog Clipart: Copyrighted by Bobbie Peachey

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pants on the Ground

I missed the original American Idol show where General Larry Platt performed his show-stopping “Pants on the Ground.” Our pastor played the video at the beginning of his message the following Sunday and ended with a stirring rendition of his version—“Made from the Ground.”

After a few Google searches, it became obvious to me that the General had become an overnight global sensation. What was Larry Platt doing the other 62 years of his life? He isn’t called General because he was in the military—he was a general in the war against injustice. He was a civil rights activist who was beaten on the Bloody Monday March. He was recognized September 4, 2001, for his heroic efforts during the civil rights movement. In other words, he was an unsung hero for the things he believed in his heart to be important.

We all know these unsung heroes. They are the people who not only support the cause they believe in, they throw heart and soul in the effort. They brush obstacles aside with super-human strength.

I have been fortunate to know many of the unsung heroes in the battle against Alzheimer’s. I’ve know people with the disease who looked beyond their own tragedy and found a mission. Tracy Mobley, diagnosed at 38, worked tirelessly on Camp Building Bridges for children whose parents have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Tracy pieced together a Memory Quilt in honor of people with the disease. She’s an advocate and volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Caregivers are heroes too. Karen Henley’s life is focused around caring for her husband, Mike. She doesn’t seek recognition for her labor of love. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is one of the most challenging jobs a person can undertake. Caregivers know the meaning of unconditional love.

Alzheimer’s staff and volunteers are the rank and file soldiers. Alzheimer’s staff shares their expertise with the volunteers to increase the size of the army.

Penny Braun began her work with the Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer. She went on to become the first executive director of the Mid-Missouri Chapter. She turned a one-person office into a fully staffed dynamic entity serving 29 Missouri counties. Penny is a hero in the war against Alzheimer’s.

Volunteers make up the largest force in any organization. When it comes to Alzheimer’s volunteers, I think of Ted Distler’s smiling face. For many years, Ted has motivated, prodded, and led hundreds of people into being involved in Memory Walk. Ted works tirelessly to support other caregivers and to share his experiences and knowledge with his community.

If good works ever went viral like the catchy tune and words of “Pants on the Ground” these special people and millions of other motivated volunteers would become household names.

The General himself said that he hoped “Pants on the Ground” didn’t overshadow his civil rights work. That makes the General a pretty smart man as far as I’m concerned. Instant fame didn’t make him forget that life isn’t just one shining moment, it involves years of plugging away at the causes you believe in.

I hope General Larry Platt’s inspiration to the world isn’t just the tune, but the man singing it. Otherwise, the pants on the ground merely drag out our tracks and erase the footprints of our legacy.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Where is the Sun on This Foggy Day?

For the past three days fog has thrown a gloomy blanket over my world. I can’t see the sun, but, by golly, I know it’s there.

The haze is depressing and has awakened a philosophical streak in me. It reminds me of the fog that cast a net over us when Jim was diagnosed with “an Alzheimer’s type of dementia.”

During that dark time, determination and faith became the saving grace that kept the fog at bay. The knowledge that no one had defeated Alzheimer’s left us crushed beneath the miasma that took our breath away.

Fog makes me uncomfortable, and I feel threatened when driving with limited visibility. The only way to see the road is to dim the lights and cast them downward. If you leave the lights on bright, swirling grey clouds make you dizzy and you can’t see a safe distance ahead.

I’ve battled with fog a few times, and one night I thought the fog was going to win. I left the nursing home after spending time with Jim, headed for my son’s house. I took a shortcut to the highway on a narrow blacktop road and hit a spot where dense fog obstructed my view. When I could no longer see the pavement, I stopped and hoped I wasn’t parked in the middle of the highway.

I called Eric and told him I wasn’t sure where I was and couldn’t see anything. “I’m afraid a car will come along and hit me,” I said. I was beyond worried—I was scared and headed toward panic.

“Just stay put for a while and it will lift,” he said. “If the fog is so thick you can’t see anything, no one else will be moving either.”

Unfortunately, I never had much confidence in every driver having common sense. Time seemed to stand still while I waited for the fog to lift. I looked at a solid wall of grey, my stomach tied in knots.

Eventually, the fog cleared, and I resumed the journey to my son’s house. After my visit, I was apprehensive about driving home. Eric got in his truck and led the way. Following his taillights was reassuring, and the fog didn’t seem to be so scary.

Life can leave us feeling like we are all alone and lost in a fog. Alzheimer’s can seem like a solid wall blocking our path.

When circumstances bring us to a complete halt, we need to pause, take a few deep breaths to stave off the panic attack, and have faith the fog will lift. The darkness will end and the sun will burn through the haze.

Fog’s life is limited, but the sun always shines. Fog may obscure the reassuring sunlight, but at the perfect moment golden rays will burst forth in all its glory.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Inconvenient Winter Wonderland

Old Man Winter has hit with a vengeance and sub-zero temperatures make life hazardous for all of us. Our entire country has been hit with record-breaking lows.

Caregivers must be vigilant to keep their loved ones with Alzheimer’s safe. My heart goes out to the caregiver in Nashville who put her 81-year-old husband to bed Sunday night and woke up to discover he had wandered outside. His frozen body was found in his own yard the next morning.

Here in the Midwest, our Christmas snow is still on the ground and added to on a regular basis. This winter wonderland is starting to inconvenience me. Our roads were graded to a thin layer of ice, and I drove the scenic, long route to work each morning to avoid the hill to west of my house.

The first time I had to drive on slick roads this year, snow whipped onto my windshield and the wind shaped snow into tall drifts that threatened to block the roads. I didn’t meet any cars and I figured there was a good reason they stayed home.

While I negotiated the slick roads, I thought about how competent and confident Jim was on snow and ice. When he was in the early stages of dementia, I still trusted him more than I trusted myself on the slick roads. I never had to drive on it until he could no longer drive.

My hands shook by the time I pulled into my garage, but the trip had gone without incident. Jim taught me well. I do know how to drive on bad roads. I know it is important to keep up momentum without driving too fast or too slow. It irritates me to be on a slick highway and have people whizzing around me in their pickups and SUVs going ten miles over the speed limit. They are not just flirting with disaster—they throw slush on my windshield.

Wednesday morning a winter storm warning was in effect. I packed my duffle bag with clothing and other essentials in case I couldn’t get home after work. It’s hard to know when meteorologists will get the forecast right, but it doesn’t take much snow and wind to blow giant drifts across our roads.

My mom called and asked me, “Are you snowed in?”

“Nope, I’m snowed out,” I said.

I spent two nights at Best Western. I’m not used to cleaning off my car in the mornings and misjudged just how long it takes. The inconvenience of cleaning my car was certainly much better than being stuck in a snowdrift.

When I got word that the snowplows had made it down our road, I came home last night. My brother-in-law, Terry, used the snow shovel to clear my driveway so I could get my car into the garage. Staying at the hotel was nice, but it sure feels good to be home.

Looking out my window, the pristine snowy scene is worthy of a Currier and Ives Christmas card. Instead of just enjoying it, I’m thinking of the inconvenience. Can I drive safely on the roads? Should I just relax and spend the day at home? Winter wonderland, beautiful to view, but not so great for driving.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dick Clark and a New Decade

I hardly ever stay awake to welcome in the New Year, but I did this year. Of course, the only reason for me to watch TV until midnight is to witness the ball drop in New York City. Dick Clark, known for years as America’s oldest teenager, looked amazingly handsome, but his slow, measured speech was hard to understand.

Dick Clark’s faltering words reminded me of the changes in Jim’s speech when dementia caused him to develop aphasia. Jim’s hesitant speech was filled with repetitive phrases and eventually turned into silence. Late in the disease, it was hard to remember the days of intriguing conversations and shared jokes.

Dick Clark’s impaired speech was caused by a stroke in 2004. Eighty-year-old Clark has made an amazing recovery.

“They were debating on TV this morning about whether it is really a new decade,” my friend said.

“I’m no mathematician, but I can tell you that the decade will start next year,” I replied.

I learned the lesson of time from a Trivial Pursuit game years ago. The question: What date is the first day of the 21st century? I didn’t even need to think about it—I had always puzzled over why the years started with 19, but the show on TV was “The Twentieth Century.” I thought the trick was that the 2000s were the 21st century.

“January 1, 2000,” I said.

“Wrong,” my brother-in-law Dennis replied. “January 1, 2001.” After a lengthy discussion, we decided the card was a misprint. After all, Henry Salveter, our cooperative attorney at the time and one of the smartest men I ever knew, always said he was born the last day of the last month of the last century and his birthday was December 31, 1899.

Later that night, I lay in bed thinking about it and suddenly realized the card was correct. When time began, the first year would begin at 0 and twelve months later would be 1. In grammar school we all learned that 101-1=100. Lo, and behold, the new century would begin in 2001.

I discussed the turn of the century, before it happened, with my brother Mitchell. He mulled it over in his logical way and asked me, “When do you think the parties will be?”

During the countdown to 2010, I noticed Dick Clark missed a few numbers, repeated a few, but was back on track by the time the ball dropped and he said, “Welcome to the new decade.”

Technically, it’s not a new decade, but logically, you would not say welcome to the decade of 2011-2021, would you? It doesn’t really matter what happened between years 0-10.

If Henry Salveter knew that 1900 began a new century, and Dick Clark says that 2010 is a new decade, it’s good enough for me.

It is best if we use our hearts to define time. The decades we’ve lived through are our past and what makes us who we are. The decades in the future define who we will become. But in the grand scheme of things, it is today that is most important.

Happy New Year and have a great decade. And, hey, if 2010 doesn’t work out for you—just start your new decade next year.