Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smooth stones, shiny stones

Pierre, my father-in-law, and I are standing next to each other, carefully examining stones. I collect stones whenever I go, a habit that I've had since childhood. Pierre likes stones too and he is appreciatively touching a smooth stone that I gathered from a beach on the Normandy coast. He has Alzheimer's and is starting to lose his short-term memory and the ability to sustain a thought. It makes conversation difficult at times, so I am replacing the words we cannot find with stones. Gentle round stones, rough stones, crystals, rocks from distant mountains and pebbles from the beach.

The stone in his hand has tiny holes in it, created by the ceaseless action of waves. Pierre meditatively moves his fingers over the stone. Then he drops it and begins looking for another rock to examine. I hand him a piece of quartz and it glistens in the sun coming through the window. Pierre looks at me, his blue eyes uncertain and hesitant, then he smiles. "This rock does not come from a beach," he says with a solemn certainty. I smile and say "yes, that's right," and I feel tears come to my eyes. But my father-in-law has already moved away, slowly and carefully making his way across the room, distracted by something new.

I take a short, deep breath and then put the rock back on the table. I follow him, and when he turns, I have created a reassuring smile on my face.

Do you know someone who has Alzheimer's? Learn more about the disease and information for caretakers at this site. Info is available in seven different languages:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Under a luminous grey sky

Paris is a city of dreams for many people. For me, it's my home and a place of very specific realities. It's a place where almost everything in my life had changed or was lost, and then was re-born again. Some streets still have the power to create a brief, piercing nostalgia in my heart. But most often I walk past these snapshots of visual memory and see and feel only the present. The layers of time rest gently on me today.

As the train takes me from the banlieue towards the center of the city, I watch the anonymous towers of apartment buildings flash past the window. The sky is a luminous grey bowl and creates a pearlized monotone of the landscape. Inside the train, all of us are clothed in winter coats, shadows and our private thoughts. Hands hold tickets, a paperback book, or rest passively on laps. The cold wind has dried the hands of a woman sitting next to me and she carefully rubs creme on them. As passengers, we study her motions, restlessly eager for something interesting to break the monotony. When the train stops at stations, people silently move on and off the train, and a breeze enters the compartment before the door slams shut again.

The window next to me has letters scratched on it, a series of random curves and what looks like SCR. I wonder about the hands that did this act and why. Did other passengers watch with disinterest or curiosity? Who got nervous and moved to another section of the train? Who smiled and nodded?

The train shudders and jerks to a stop. I jump to my feet and join the press of people who exit the train. Within minutes, I’m walking on the street and the train is gone, taking away the echoes of my thoughts, the warmth of my seat now occupied by another traveler.