Beauty in the Beast
One of my favourite people has early stage Alzheimer’s. I met her when she had already been diagnosed. She suffered the short-term memory lapses, the fear of not remembering, the bouts of frustration fuelled anger but none of it affected her sense of fun. She loved going out. She loved meeting people. She loved shopping. She had even learnt to use her memory loss to her advantage when confronted with things she should not be doing. But the most charming aspect of her was her ability to relish the same experience many times over. She would tell me a story from her past (her long term memory was still strong) with the same excitement every time I met her, because she would not remember that she had told it to me previously. One morning I showed her a video clip of Vincent Van Gogh’s art, set to the Music of “Starry Starry Nights.” Vincent was her favorite artist (she herself was a design school graduate). It’s a beautiful clip and I was very gratified to see how moved she was. I met her again a few days later, and remembering how much she had enjoyed it I asked if she wanted to see it again. I realized when I played it that she didn’t remember it at all and so her experience was as powerful as the first time. Over the next few months I learnt that she had the capacity to respond with the same degree of emotion every time she saw the clip. And I thought to myself, “What a gift!” To be able to extract the same level of joy from an experience every time. Conversely, if she had a bad experience with anyone or anyplace, that would not stay with her for long. She would forget it, and in forgetting she would save herself much of the anguish of those who cannot forget. Having said that, none of this is meant to glorify the beast. Still, beauty must be appreciated wherever we find it.