Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Duets with Mary

Earlier this month I was in the New York City area and had the privelege of meeting Jeff's (son-in-law-to-be) grandmother. Mary still lives in the Lower East Side apartment where she raised her family. One of her great pleasures in life has been playing the piano and a small Steinway grand sits prominently in the living room. Mary is deep into Alzheimer's, but remnants of her former self still show forth in her sparkling eyes and sweet smile.

A collection of Beethoven's piano sonatas sat on the music rack and I asked if I might play a bit. I began with the slow movement of the Pathetique and before long I heard Mary, sitting nearby, humming along. She moved over to the bench and played a little piece for me, over and over, something I didn't recognize. I suggested we play together, and while I read thru the Moonlight she watched my hands like a hawk and tried to imitate what I was doing. Occasionally she would go back to her own piece and the resulting cacophony was both hopeful and bittersweet.

I will not forget that afternoon of playing duets with Mary. It is another reminder, among many, of the power of music to heal, to cross boundaries, and to connect us with one another.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Six Days of Retirement

The first week of February I made an unexpected trip to visit my parents and aunt in Texas. My mom and dad had been having a particularly rough time and needed some shoring up. I was feeling helpless and very far away, so with little notice I made a plane reservation, contacted a sub, and cancelled my life here in Maine for a week. It was easy.

Immediately I felt a strong sense of relief and it was truly a wonderful trip. And believe it or not, I count ice and snow as the reasons for it being exceptionally good. I left here on a frigid, snow-covered day and looked forward to early morning walks by the canals of Irving and taking in some Vitamin D. It was balmy when I arrived-for a few hours that is. I woke up around 4 am to the sound of something coming from the sky-a little like rain, but no...it was ice, and lots of it.

The Dallas area does not have the capacity to clear all the roads in this type of situation and naturally they go after the major highways first, like those leading to the Super Bowl, which was taking place later in the week. The temperatures remained well below freezing, while we remained in the apartment. I made a short, petrifying trip to the supermarket, and that was it.

When I visit the folks they like to get out-go to a movie, a museum, a restaurant. We come back from these outings exhausted, impatient and demoralized. This time we were forced to do things in the retirement facility and it was so much easier. Everyday we watched a movie, usually on the Turner Classics channel, accompanied by popcorn and soft drinks. I cooked simple meals for supper and we played dominoes, sometimes in the public game room. One afternoon my aunt and I went to "Happy Hour" where a resident got a bit tipsy and began dancing in her wheelchair. Another lady looked at me and asked Are you new here? Surely she had had too much wine to see clearly...

There was even some excitement one night around 11 when the fire alarm went off. I awoke to bright flashing lights in every room and an alarm so piercing I had to cover my ears. My mother and I were frantic, trying to figure out what was going on, and suddenly I became very sober, going over in my mind how we'd get my helpless dad up and out in the event it was a fire. It was only 10 degrees outside and a feeling of vulnerability seeped through every pore of my body. The emergency turned out to be a broken water main, causing one wing of the building to flood.

There is no real conclusion here, or a happy versus sad ending. No big decisions were made, I didn't fix anything, and we didn't even have one of my dad's infamous family conferences. We just were and it was a lovely 6 days. My mom and dad continue to struggle, but in the midst of that we experienced joy.