Just before the news of the Coronavirus really heated up, when it still seemed like something happening somewhere else, as we tried to believe that it would never really affect our lives, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia.
My dad is ninety-three and has lived a good life, but this revelation was still staggering. Unable to travel, I have watched at a distance as my father, still in early stages, loses mental ground every few weeks. Yesterday he asked me where I lived, though I have been in Toronto for thirty years. Other times he’s confused my sister’s and my own spouses. Our conversations are forgotten or repeated in endless loops as his mind fails to grasp the words we have just said. Each time I call, I am so grateful that he still remembers my name. I know the day will surely arrive when that name will be lost as bits of his remembered life break off and float away.
I can’t help but place my father’s challenges and our own side-by-side. Though as first blush it would seem there is little to compare: he struggles to hold onto his memories while we habitually zoom past the present moment. My father struggles every day to hold onto the last sentence he heard or what he did the day before, as well as recall the dearest memories of his long life. We, by contrast, want to live the past every day. We seek to set the clock back and forget today, want to live the careless way we lived a few months ago and cling to the illusion that, when this is over, these days will be erased and we will be just as we were before.
As so many of us wish away these weeks that likely will stretch into months and might encompass years, I am reminded how much every day matters. Our life is lived no matter the value we place upon it. When we wish away this time, we wish away life, and yes, fear, uncertainty, but also joy, awareness, and perhaps a chance to see our lives and our societies more clearly than we can when the rose-coloured glasses of routine were still firmly in place.
So, it is my aspiration to truly live these days, these weeks, maybe these years. I don’t want to make these times a series of lost moments as I skid over my life, waiting for it to be over so I can live my “real life.” Life is what it is, and we don’t get it back. I want to use this time of unusual clarity, unsullied by those twin smoke-screens of routine and illusory security, to see with greater compassion what our society, our larger world could be once we realize that at any time, not just this time, anyone can become insecure and anyone can be lost.