I was walking home from a meeting the other day and ran into an elderly woman with a walker and a broken umbrella. She looked lost.
I asked her if she was okay, and she shook her head. She couldn’t remember where she was going, then brightened slightly: she had a card. She dug around in her purse, broken umbrella perched over one shoulder and rain drenching her head, keys and change spilling onto the wet pavement. I held my umbrella over her, picked up the fallen items and looked at the card she held out: A senior center. I knew which one–it was quite a ways away. How did she end up so far from it?
She’d been trying to get there and must’ve taken a wrong turn. Got lost. She was flustered–she’s lived in the area a long time but couldn’t get herself oriented to what avenue was where or in what order or how far. She kept repeating an attribute of her destination. A ramp. For wheelchairs and walkers. It had a ramp. She’d been walking and looking for ramps…
I told her not to worry. I knew where she had to go and would walk her there.
On the way and as she looked for ramps and we slowly navigated in the rain that dripped over the edge of her broken umbrella and as we dodged puddles and splashing cars and potholes that snagged the wheels of her walker, she told me (and repeated the same every minute or so) she has “some dementia.” She used to be very independent and “drive all over the place” but now keeps getting confused. She said she tries to leave the house to be with people because “it is important” and because otherwise she sits home alone “and cries like a baby all day.”
My heart ached for her.
Her broken umbrella mirrored her flickering brain–she held on though it barely did what it ought to.
It took us a while to inch our way to the senior center. I kept reassuring her we’ll find the center (with the ramp). She retold me of her dementia. How independent she used to be. Of her forgetting. Her wanting to be with people. Her “crying like a baby” at home.
After I left this sweet lady safe and sound at the center (with the ramp–she was so delighted to see that ramp! Its presence a small proof of her memory still holding on to something!), I walked home and couldn’t help thinking … Wouldn’t it be helpful if instead of this little old lady, some of those who thrive on cruel manipulation, got a touch of dementia?
Oh, dementia is no joke, and I did not and do not intend to trivialize it!
Nonetheless I found myself considering how safer our world would be if those who connive to hurt and harm, forgot how to … and instead became immersed in small-radius-activities of afternoon bingo and word-searches. If tyrants and terrorists of all types of violent intrusions, lost interest in victimizing or power-hunger, and instead had their world contract around organized daily existences in protective housing someplace … to be occupied with lunch and naps and no longer be capable of manipulation and scheming …
They would be a far more deserving audience for a bit of dementia, than this sweet woman and so many the world over whose full heart and intellect we can use.
Wouldn’t it be helpful, I thought, to have the wish-to-harm turn dull in those who relish spreading agony?
At least until the shuttle to Pluto was ready …