No matter how much we prepare, we repeatedly are called to face new challenges. The nature of life. Our family is no different. Seven years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While it has been difficult to watch an extremely capable man slowly dissolve into complete dependence, I also watched other personal characteristics of his stay intact, some characteristics that even become more salient as the fluff of cognitive existence retreats. My dad is a gentle, kind, and loving man. He was then and he remains so now the greatest example of kindness.
I realize that mind, brain and personality are complex, far beyond our inadequate comprehension and fractured theories. Perhaps, variations of dementia brings out different characteristics without involvement of an innate self. I believe, however, that our life time work of neuro-developments, neuronal connections, biological propensities, and personality strengths and weaknesses continue to some degree even as our brain slowly disconnects.
As I look back at my childhood and a life time of interactions with my dad, I remember he was stern but caring. Thirty-five years of our adult relationship has existed without a single sour encounter. As much as a strong willed, opinionated and sensitive man that I am, I find this highly unusual. I am blessed.
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”~Saint Basil
I spent last week with my dad. His gentle kindness remains unimpaired. He forgets which child I am, where I live, and if I have children, but he is happy to see me. Each meal is delicious, each day wonderful, and each experience delightful. Unencumbered by the stresses of tomorrow, his kind, gentle nature has ballooned, radiating the room with warmth, acceptance, and appreciation.
Nature or Nurture?
I see myself as a kind gentle man but it takes so much work. Underneath my façade I present to the world, bubbles a lot of impulsive meanness. Gratefulness, when experienced, is typically accomplished through purposeful redirecting of thoughts. I must blunt hurtful and angry impulses before they materialize and destroy. One never knows, perhaps, my dad fought malicious, beastly, or ugly impulses too.
Maybe only through a lifetime of hard won kindness was his inner beast subdued and tamed.
Loss of Suppression
I’m frightened. The disease has ravished multiple generations before me. Am I next? Will loss of my ability to suppress expose my meanness that is neatly tucked away. Will I respond to those momentary surges of anger or fear?
“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”~Abraham Lincoln
Buddha taught that, “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.”
Perhaps, this victory over self is obtained through the habitual feeding of the good wolf inside—being kind, brave and loving. This victory, I hope, cannot be taken from us, even by the hands of a horrific disease.
I am grateful for the example of my dad, and all those like him, that have lived a life of gentle kindness, both in health and illness. They give me strength and hope. These successful examples of greatness feed my desire to reach a little higher, be a little kinder, and show a little more patience.