Here I visit a concept that a man with Alzheimer's wrote about before his recent death.
| Many years ago, I was sent a story on Facebook about a man suffering from Alzheimer's who, in one of his lucid moments, wrote a poem entitled "The Cranky Old Man." The nurse who cared for him found it after his death and sent it circling the globe on social media. The authenticity of the story and the poem it contains has come into question, but the moral of the story made a bigger impact on me than I thought at the time. The poem I read centered on the author pleading to be remembered for the life he lived and the man he used to be before Alzheimer's had him "forever losing a sock or a shoe."
We all have dreams. We all aspire to heights that seem so glorious from where we stand. History lets the heroes sing, and we listen to those stories through the weathered voices of our elders. Thousands buy and read books front to back about characters that traverse the world and explore new ideas showing new depths and purpose. So many are inspired by these stories, and they, in turn, strive to those heights. Few, however, seem to stop just as often and look back at the accomplishments already achieved. Even as social media becomes more prevalent in society, and adventures can be posted daily, a handful will recognize their own.
The day this revelation became apparent is still as clear to me as yesterday. I was coming backstage after finishing a final concert where people received awards for "most talented," "most improved," and "most inspirational." I had received none of these, and I didn't expect to. Many classmates of mine were far more talented in their skill. As I was packing away my instrument, a girl I had never known before came up to me as said "I just wanted you to know, I put you in for the 'most inspirational' award." She continued, saying I was where she wanted to be, and seeing it was the only thing that made her want to keep playing. I stuttered my thanks as I remembered the man who had given me that very inspiration. I had grown a lot farther than I had thought.
The lesson would continue as I grew older and joined the Air Force. There were a few kids that would claim their desire to "be like me" when they grow up. "It's an honor to serve" quickly became my automatic reply to "thank you for your service." I am no hero. Perhaps joining the military is a big accomplishment, but my position kept me far away from combat and danger. I served as a mechanic with a fancy name and a (rather unflattering) uniform. I am proud of my service. But I wouldn't think of myself inspirational.
Perhaps the author of "The Cranky Old Man," unable most of the time to remember the things he has done, was crying out for someone to remember it for him. Perhaps he wanted to see the inspiration in someone's eyes again, and feel a bit of the glow of pride. The eyes that pity might sear him because, in his mind, he is 25 and healthy trapped in a body that won't respond. I imagine his stories, then imagine my own. Both are so full of life with many adventures waiting to be told and remembered.
A person is made largely of the actions and reactions of life. To lose that is terrifying to both those who watch it and those who experience it. Yet even now, the man with Alzheimer's inspires those around him. He lived a little while longer, still smiling and enjoying the life he had, save the few moments that plague us all. While he begs others to see him for who he was, it is who he ended up being that had inspired me the most. The power of inspiration lies within us all. Even ourselves.