Discouragement and weariness take a toll. More often than not, when we don’t even realize the weight.
That means it is story time.
“Remember on this one thing, said Badger. The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.” (Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel)
Yes. Because here’s the deal: there is power in stories that ground us, that remind us who we are. From that grounded place, grows hope and gratitude, and courage and resilience, and compassion and kindheartedness.
Today, I want you to meet Mr. Bramwell.
Life turned left for him with dementia (literally meaning de-mented or deprived of mind). “Dementia challenges what we think of soul, spirit, and personality,” Dr. Victoria Sweet writes in God’s Hotel. “Which was why, when I saw Mr. Bramwell dancing to the tune of Glenn Miller, I never forgot it.”
Dr. Sweet paints us the picture of when they met. “Mr. Bramwell was sitting in the chair by his bed, dressed in dark blue pressed chinos and a green plaid shirt with the collar buttoned all the way up. He was African-American and dark brown, with a wide face, slack jaw, and incurious eyes, which stared at his own hands tapping softly on the table in front of him. Mrs. Bramwell was standing next to him. She was beautiful. Tall and statuesque, she was calm and confident in high heels and nylon stockings, a maroon skirt-suit, and an elegant green wool coat. Which sounds like it would clash, but against her dark, clear skin, did not. She was probably the same age as Mr. Bramwell, which was seventy, although she could have been ten years younger. She just couldn’t manage Mr. Bramwell any longer, she told me. The Alzheimer’s was just too hard.”
We learn the background about the Bramwells, about their six children, and his construction business and his drinking too much, and how he had quit, and how he’d been in a car accident with head trauma, and how they didn’t know if his slowing down and crazy talk was from the drinking or not.
With any profound but rather static dementia, how do we know the beginning with any certainty?
In her exploration of circumstances, Dr. Sweet describes medical conditions, pseudo dementia, schizoaffective, and Parkinson’s. I do get that part, you know, the urge to make sense of it all. We want to find the words. With the hope that understanding the recipe of any adversity will allow us to find the ingredients that are treatable.
Of course, restoration is never an easy or short process.
Just to get Mr. Bramwell off his medications and treat his depression took more than a year. “And I wish I could say that he had a remarkable improvement. But he did not. He continued to be kept and shaved, with his little smile and his tapping hands; and Mrs. Bramwell continued to visit him every day, bring in home-cooked food. Then one day Mr. Bramwell demonstrated one of the oldest observations about dementia; that even when a patient is de-mented, his soul, his anima, is still… somewhere.”
Hospital activity therapists are enthusiastic individuals with a perplexing job, in the case of Laguna Honda, coming up with activities to engage the demented and disabled.
And a storyline sadly familiar; because of policy or funding, the program at Laguna Honda had been discontinued.
Even so, at Laguna, there was still a weekly dance. Well, there was a room with 90 patients in folding chairs or wheelchairs. And nurses dancing, with various levels of both oomph and skill. Dr. Sweet watched a young Filipino nurse throw out her arms and pull up a patient to dance with her. It was Mr. Bramwell. He stood confused and uncertain and swaying. Was he afraid to fall?
He stood, slack jawed, open mouth, a puzzled look on this face. Then he lifted his right hand and took her left hand, and began to dance. And though he no longer remembers how to talk or how to clean himself, and barely how to eat, he wasn’t a bad dancer. Actually, he was a very good dancer.
Then he danced with another nurse, twirling her and smiling, manly, in control and suddenly young.
Reading the story today, I’m smiling real big. I can’t help it.
“From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring.”
Then the music stopped, and Mr. Bramwell stopped, too. He slumped, he stooped, he came to a halt; he forgot the dancing and shuffled with the nurse back to his ward.
“But I didn’t forget,” Dr. Sweet writes.
And neither will I.
I wonder, is he now waiting for those first strains of Glenn Miller to sound again?
If you ask me what makes a good sermon or homily, I’d say that making space for the first strains of Glenn Miller isn’t bad.
I want to keep my smile and my hopefulness, but it gives way to sadness. Because I have to recognize that this story is not about silver bullets. Or about any cure-all.
But this is a story about healing—grace and kindness. And about what is alive (even though) deep inside.
So, here’s the deal: when I despair, I want to know that the people who love me ask, what will invite him to dance? (What will invite me?)
You see, all healing begins with an invitation.
In a world where discouragement and weariness are real, too often stoked by stress, loneliness and political division, every single one of us needs kindness and grace.
In the dance, grace is alive and well.
In the dance, kindness to the self (when our spirit feels defended and guarded) is alive and well.
Even while looking for a cure, let the healing float on the strains of Glenn Miller to soothe the spirit. Or in the beauty and fragrance of a flower and a garden.
And sometime this week, just start dancing. If anyone asks, tell them it’s called “preventative dancing,” prescribed for healing heart and the soul.
I lost a friend this week. Philip Cushman (psychologist, writer and teacher), was a well-known, beloved and active member of the Vashon community, his life ended by a hit and run driver as he walked alongside a Vashon road, not far from where I used to stop and talk with the sheep. My heart hurts.
Quote for our week…
And yet if you look at a society that sings and dances as a regular thing, it’s not that it has an effect on their life—it is their life. Gary Snyder.
Today’s Photo Credit: “Earlier in the summer, the largest fires ever experienced in this high desert devastated a vast area near Taos, destroying acres of forest and many homes. Smoke filled the skies for weeks. The gift of abundant rainfall for the last several weeks has brought acres and acres of bright yellow flowers, and the clouds blessed the heavens with spectacular sunsets. Taos is getting
much needed rainfall, and Central Texas where I live. Blessings! And another blessing is your Sabbath Moments which start my day off… I’m enjoying a couple of weeks of Sabbath Moments here in the high country!” Bunny Oliver, Austin, Texas… Thank you Bunny… Thank you Mary Ann… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
Letters that do my heart good…
–Thank I am a fan of Walt Whitman but I also like Whitman’s Sampler which had all kinds of chocolate candies. I liked to sample them all and I think that’s being curious for sure. T.W.
–Dear Terry, I wanted to share with you that I get up each morning, usually very early before sunrise, and I go outside to be with my God in the open air. And I invite the breeze, His breath, to surround and lift me/my spirit. Almost inevitably, It does! And I find myself with arms thrown out and slowly turning (twirling, if you will) in a slow dance with Him. What a glorious way to start my day! No, we do not walk this journey alone! Thank you for your words and the voice of grace you bring to me! Beth
–This morning I slept in a bit, a rarity as I’m usually up by 5:30. I’m sitting on the patio sipping my hot lemon water (coffee is next in line), and I decided to check my emails before writing (not something I usually do). I came across Terry Hershey’s Sabbath Moment. Some days, I feel too burdened by my Monday morning to-do list to read through it, but today, something about it called to me, and so I scrolled through Terry’s ponderings. Kathy
POEMS AND PRAYERS
We do not commonly live our life out and full; we do not fill all our pores with our blood; we do not inspire and expire fully and entirely enough; We live but a fraction of our life. Why do we not let on the flood, raise the gates, and set all our wheels in motion?
Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes, when I visit the Mansion (Senior Center), Joan is on the other side of the glass looking out. We wave to each other, and we talk to each other through the window. She seems to love these conversations, we can’t really hear each other so we make funny faces at each other and laugh. By the time I get inside, she has forgotten. But she never forgets to play the game. I wrote a poem for Joan which I will take to the Mansion and read to her, perhaps later today. (From Jon Katz, Bedham Farm Journal)
God has invited you to a party,
and you said yes,
everyone who comes will be my special guest.
and I asked her,
what will you say to them when they arrive,
and she replied,
everyone I know is on this
jeweled dance floor
and I will ask them,
why not? why not?
Why not dance and sing?
May God the Gardener bless you.
May God the Gardener bless you.
May you be planted in God’s deep rich earth,
nourished with God’s grace and wisdom
and refreshed by the dew of God’s love.
May you know the experience of breaking through
and of flowering with compassion, justice, and mercy.
May God the Gardener be with you.
Maxine Shonk, OP