Here’s another story from a night at the Alzheimer’s residential treatment center where I worked part time as an aide, after retiring from my career in the Organic Foods business.
I was walking down the hallway one evening on my way to swiping out for the night. “Swiping out” involves going to a special room and carefully sliding a piece of plastic identification through a scanner attached to the side of a wall. The metal box responds with a green light, if I do it right. Many people all across America and even around the world do this every day and night. The machines calculate our net time contributions to our employers, and determine suitable reimbursement for our efforts. It seems we have finally attained to the dead poet Richard Brautigan’s poetic vision of all being watched over by machines, although not necessarily the “machines of loving grace” that he envisioned – more like impersonal . . . well . . . machines.
In any case, a lovely old wheelchair-bound soul accosted me gently before I got to the special room with the swipe machine and asked me where she was. Although I had seen her at the facility a number of times previously, in her mind she had mysteriously just arrived here, not even knowing where “here” actually was, much less her room number. There’s a provocative metaphor there, but I’ll refrain from elaborating on it for now for the sake of brevity and just proceed with the narrative.
I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride to nurse’s station and thereby locate her room. This proposition seemed to appeal to her, so off we went, and she kept her feet raised like a pro, so as not to scrape the ground and lose her slippers as we wheeled down the hall.
When we got to the station, the nurse was off attending to someone else, so I parked the chair alongside some other patrons who were gathered around the nurse’s desk finishing off their Eight O’Clock Snacks, and told her the nurse would soon be back, and she would direct her to the right room.
As I was about to leave, she grabbed me by the arm, looked me in the eyes and asked, “Is it safe?”
Thanks to Mazie who had recently introduced me to the film “Marathon Man”, I immediately flashed on the Nazi Laurence Olivier asking that same question to Dustin Hoffman, strapped in the dentist chair and tortured for information, and this made me smile out loud. I then quickly assured the Dear that everything was perfect. We both smiled at that. Hey, why not? All is well, no matter what, so why not admit it, even when things don’t necessarily seem that way in the midst of this crazy dream?
Nevertheless, there was still some inquiry that wanted to be done, so she next asked how many people were there at night, and I told her that there were more than a hundred. This impressed her, but she wondered if it was safer to be at home instead. I replied that since there were more people here at the facility than there were at home, that meant she was safer, because there were more people here to help her.
This made sense to her, and she expressed relief. I conveyed to her my most sincere and confident trust that she could relax, upon which she thanked me graciously for my sentiments. We smiled at each other for a while — two vulnerable critters wandering through this realm on another night in infinity, smiling in the midst of the vast unknown. Our smiles exuded the warmth of safety, even in the midst of a life of uncertainty — just because we were there with each other. It was good. When the nurse finally arrived back at her station to help out, we finally said good-bye for the night, both feeling safe, and for no truly sound reason, except that we tell each other it is so, and so it is.