In the spirit of St. Francis, I have begun to recognize that my nearest neighbors are not the Woodards or the Blacks—although they are very good neighbors indeed—but the various creatures with whom I live my life on a daily basis.
Our children expect peculiar vacations. While their friends go to Disney World or the beach, we go to monasteries and rare book libraries, making a holiday out of castles and forests along the way and returning with odd bits of nature or history for our display case.
As an heir of the Methodist tee-totaling commitment, I grew up with a clear sense that alcohol is dangerous and to be avoided. I heard stories of John Wesley’s critique of drunkenness in 18th-century England, of how Welch’s grape juice was introduced by a Methodist layman as an alternative to wine for communion, and of the links between drunkenness and other sinful behavior.
The vase had once been a fine antique with a cream glaze and blue Japanese design, but now it was damaged. It stood amid the finer pieces, a mass of cracks, crudely glued together with what was obviously the wrong type of adhesive—everywhere the 20 or so pieces met one another, glue had bubbled out yellow as it dried, creating the effect of scabrous scars.“Why don’t you get rid of that one?” I asked my mother. “Never,” she replied. “It’s the most valuable piece of pottery we have in this house.” Then she told me the story of the cracked vase.
For more than 20 years now, I have been in the business of telling the truth that is public. In sermons, Sunday school lessons, prayers alongside hospital beds and ten-minute speeches to the Rotary Club, my job has involved mining some nugget of truth that will ring true for all within the sound of my voice.
The focus of geriatric doctors on testing for memory loss, which leads to possible diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s, is part of a war against the old, according to Margaret Morganroth Gullette, resident scholar at Brandeis University. She likens it to educators being preoccupied with testing schoolchildren. “‘Dementia’ is a label that dehumanizes,” she says. What aging people need is social support, which itself can enhance a sense of well-being that contributes to better memory. “In thinking about memory loss, we do well to remember two simple precepts,” she says. “Do not panic about your own. Be gentle toward other people’s” (Interpretation, April).