Nov 2, 2011

The Offering

I suddenly realize that I am profoundly happy in this moment, happy in a way I have not felt for a very long time. Somewhere in the loneliness and difficulties of these past few years, the challenges and the grievings, I stopped allowing happiness its voice and silenced the hymn in my soul.

By Margaret Toman
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Lake Benson Park
“What you write about your life will find you,” says Dr. Clark, who conducts the Life Writing Class at Garner Senior Center.

I believe him and yet, staring at this implacable, blank page on Tuesday afternoon with Wednesday morning’s class looming, I can not think of a single word to put on it.

Long years of caregiving for my beloved mother, now nearly 98 years old and losing ground to Alzheimer’s Disease, seem to have eclipsed my muse.

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Maybe a Milky Way will help, I think, so I get up and go get one out of the candy dish in the living room. Next to the candy dish is this month’s Smithsonian Magazine, still unread. I pick it up, sorely tempted, then put it down, forcing myself back to my computer, which stubbornly meets my blank stare with one of its own.

What is the problem here?, I wonder.

I’ve had many life experiences that would probably interest other people. My efforts so far have brought expressions of appreciation and encouragement, particularly by other caregivers who say “I know just what you’re talking about. You’re writing about me. Please keep writing.”

Perhaps I don’t feel very interesting to myself. Is that the source of this block? Or is it that my standards for writing as a craft are high and my first drafts are embarrassingly poor. Has my muse left me because I am lazy or a perfectionist? When corresponding casually via e-mail I am a veritable verbal acrobat, spinning phrases, juggling words, leaping long sentences in single bounds of imagination, prompting the oft-heard remark from recipients, “You should be a writer.”

Exasperated and frustrated at the inability of my computer to come up with anything, I give up and leave the keyboard, put on my green corduroy jacket and go out for a walk. Just around the corner has been opened a new greenway that meanders 1 mile through beautiful woods to White Deer Park and then another 1.2 miles around Lake Benson Park. Knowing that my 97 year old mother is safe in adult daycare, I place my muse on a back burner to simmer and head out.

I walk energetically, head up, arms swinging, savoring the brisk wind against my face and the vividness of late October. Around the curve up ahead on their two red leashes come Bonnie and Clyde, two white poodles I’ve met before. They begin to tug and gyrate when they see me, remembering that the bulge in my pockets has divulged puppy bones on past meetings. Their owner and I smile broadly at each other while I serve up the treats.

“You have a beautiful smile” she says. “I just know you are a Christian!” “Thank you,” I say, leaving it at that. I am tempted to ask, but don’t, whether she has seen the smile of a Jew at Passover, of a Muslim at the Festival of Eid, or a Catholic on All Saints Day.

“Do you have a church?” she asks. I answer honestly. “I don’t have a brick and mortar church right now. This”, I smile, gesturing around us “is it for the time being.” “Oh, I see,” she says and her voice drops a little. “Well, have a nice day!” We turn our attention briefly to the dogs then part in divergent directions.

I feel sorry to have disappointed her but to me the woods on this dazzling Fall day are a cathedral - the dome a hard clear blue against which scarlet and gold leaves shimmer in reflected sun like stained glass windows.

On both sides of the aisle small animals and birds rustle in the leafy pews like congregants at prayer -- please God, a gentle winter this year.

Two joggers lope by, breathing heavily, both plugged into I-pods. Approaching is a large golden retriever, grinning broadly, tail up and wagging. “Well hello, handsome!” I say to the dog. And to the owner, “May I give him a bone?”

By all means, she says and as the dog gobbles the bone and nudges my pocket, she looks at me with lively brown eyes and exclaims “Isn’t this a beautiful day. The sky is so blue!” “If you think it’s pretty out of your brown eyes you should see it through my blue ones!”, I say and we laugh together a moment before going on our way. I look heavenward and indeed, I see the blue in my eyes looking back at me.

I cross Aversboro Road and begin the trail around Lake Benson Park. At the grassy lawn where the path leads down to the lake is a huddle of tents. Boyscouts. Two troop leaders are standing near as I pass by. Is this “Occupy Garner” I ask? One of them stares at me in silence; the other is still doubled over with laughter as I disappear quickly around the curve. The boyscouts are just ahead, installing a new footbridge over a gully.

“Thank you,” I say. “I will look forward to crossing this bridge every day.”

Usually I walk non-stop except for puppy bone visits but the lavish magnificence of this brilliantly colored day lures me to the edge of Lake Benson, a broad expanse of sparkling silver ruffled by wind. A large chevron of Canada Geese honks overhead, banks, lowers, then splashes in. “There comes the choir,” I joke to myself, “I can tell by their robes.” Somewhere way across the lake a dog is barking. A swing squeaks rhythmically in the playground up the hill. The fragrance of acorns and grilled hamburgers grazes my nostrils. At my feet the lake water laps in musical ripples.

I suddenly realize that I am profoundly happy in this moment, happy in a way I have not felt for a very long time. Somewhere in the loneliness and difficulties of these past few years, the challenges and the grievings, I stopped allowing happiness its voice and silenced the hymn in my soul. I hear a whisper from my back burner: “Write about this!”

I walk home beneath the enormous blue dome, through brilliantly colored Cathedral corridors and the chorus of birds, and sit at my computer. My muse finds me there.

This is my offering.

Margaret Toman is an Alzheimer's caregiver, and cares for her 98 year old mother, Lou Longest, who is in an advanced stage of Alzheimer's disease. They live together in Garner, North Carolina.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room