When I moved to Sacramento last fall I wanted to become involved in the community so when a friend asked me to volunteer some time at a local Alzheimer’s Center I agreed. Once a week I would visit and start a discussion with the ladies on a topic such as “What do you remember about a pet you had as a child?” or “Tell me about your first boyfriend,” or “What did you house look like?”The topics were always about things of their childhood as I thought those memories might be more accessible than what happened two years ago. As they talked I wrote down their ‘stories’ and the following week would give them a typewritten version to keep and share with their families.
It was a very poignant experience. One lady could remember the dog she had as a child but not her husband. Another had little recall of young friends but remembered her childhood home. At the same time their minds were slowly crumbling away, I would sometimes see a deep kindness. If someone would start fretting because they couldn’t recall something, one of the ladies might give her a hug and say, “Don’t worry. I can’t remember some things either.”
In my own life, I now have to acknowledge that I sometimes have difficulty recalling a name or event or even the ‘right word.’ When I read some of the essays I wrote ten years ago I think I was much wittier then, could make more outrageous connections, walk a thinner tightrope. But at the same time my mind has become rustier, the hinges of my heart are better oiled.
Anyway, in looking through some past poetry I came upon this one that reminded me (pun intended) of these sweet ladies I met last fall.
Memories Slip Away
Memories slip away unnoticed from my mind
Like honey sliding off a silver spoon:
Five hundred and three forgotten
With a black sock in an old suitcase;
Along with a letter and brown creased photograph;
One hundred and twenty-seven left behind
In an unfinished book;
Sixteen wedged at the back of a dusty drawer
Beside a postcard of Niagara Falls.
If only I could remember one day, one moment,
I would know if I had learned to love,
I would remember if his kiss was sweet,
The color of the child’s eyes,
The shape of the mother’s face.
If only I could remember now,
I might remember who I am.
I might remember what it was I came to learn.
How can I escape this Wheel
When I have been so careless
And misplaced the memories of my life.
How can I be forgiven
If I do not remember my sins –
By commission and omission –
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
So how now shall I remember
Without a touch, a taste, a smell to anchor me.
It only I could remember,
If only I,
Picture: “Niobe by the River” ink on rice paper, Marie Taylor