Friday, March 15, 2013

Drifting Away

Watercolor by Valerie Millett

I brought her good news and her face lit up. Her soft blue eyes, slightly closed by the huge grin on her weathered and tired face beamed with measurable warmth.  To see her smile, I felt a sense of relief. This exact moment in time everything was good in her world made that everything good in my world.  She was leaving. She steadied herself, legs unsure for a moment and reached out to hug me.  It felt good to hug her.  She held on longer and paused to kiss my cheek.  She held my face in her hands and lovingly looked into my eyes and told me she loved me. I told her, I love you, back.  As she left, she turned around and waved and looked at me as though she'd loved me an eternity. She left me, in tears.

She was not my grandmother nor my mother. She was not anyone I'd ever met before until this morning. She was a surgical patient. She has Alzheimer's and for some reason she seemed to feel as though she knew me. 

It goes with the territory, working in surgery with cancer patients of a certain age.  Most of them over the age of 70.  For me, the ravages of Alzheimer's is familiar and part of my everyday considerations. I'm also a photographer and a writer and my own story can not be told without telling theirs.  

 It might as well be another form of cancer, devastating non-the-less. I liken it to a slow suffocation of a persons spirit, slowly taking a life yet occasionally letting the essence of the real person shine through, only to hide them again. I've seen its face and it scares the hell out of me.  I've based my whole life on the meticulous cultivation of memories and often I wonder  if someday I will simply let them go with no say in the matter.  There is no doubt as to why I work so hard at creating, chronicling and photographing this big wonderful world. Trying not to take it for granted because I know better.  I've seen the other side.  Will I someday simply not remember my own life? Will I drift into this darkness. Will my photography save me. 

She left me speechless standing in a surgical room with tears in my eyes. She looked at me with such honest and genuine affection that I wondered who she thought I was. I thought about her all day well into the evening.  I thought about how much, I enjoyed her today.  I had a few selfish hours of unconditional love and I loved it.   Her touch reminded me of my grandmother, frail and sweet.  Her loving caress of my face, reminded me of the mother I loved so.  How I missed being adored and loved by her.  I missed her affection.  I realized how much we take for granted the human touch, gentleness and kindness.

Working many years in the medical field has no doubt had an impact on my thinking.  I've had many years to contemplate the frailties of the human condition. It has undeniably shaped my priorities and my desire to savor my time in nature, enjoy my photography and keep a mind and heart mired in appreciation.   Knowing all too well how fleeting these experiences may be.  Usually these moments to ponder come out of my relationship with nature, out in  nature often during hours of photographing  or hiking.  Moved to deep thought and self-reflection by the sounds of the forest or a creek but not often in the clinical setting. 

 The human spirit is a remarkably powerful thing. Even hidden under the ravages of Alzheimer's, she, for a moment, transcended her condition and her inner beauty beamed through her eyes,  Her brief warm and affectionate bit of communication with me, touched me profoundly.

Often while photographing I pay a special attention to clouds. I watch the clouds, noting how they drift  in and leave. Changing the scene from one moment to the next. Adding beauty then moving on, like the woman with the soft blue eyes, sweeping through my life with such impact and beautiful grace. Like her memories, gone in the next moment.