Monday, June 07, 2004

Hey, Peaktalk is back, with, among other things, a couple posts about the passing of Reagan.

That was sort of surreal. I found out about it while visiting my grandmother in a temporary nursing facility, while we were getting ready to move her into a less intensive assisted living facility. My first political act was to stump, in my doofus-six-year-old way, for anybody but Reagan. So I made an "Anderson-for-President" poster and stuck it out where we usually left the trash cans. So began a long tradition of backing the wrong horse. Anderson went nuts, as so many of my candidates have done, and the last time I heard, he had become some sort of one-world federalist lunatic. Scary old Ronnie Reagan, who was going to accidentally incinerate us all in a senile spasm of disoriented dementia, on the other hand, proved to be the one who figured out how to untie the proverbial knot, sword in hand.

The great fear and contempt which surrounded the Reagan administration, taught me a lot about how much to trust conventional wisdom. I've been trying to apply that knowledge ever since, but it's never as easy as Reagan made it seem. He never seemed to *struggle* in public, and that's what made people so wary. Nothing important should be as easy as Reagan made it seem. He must have been a figurehead, or he was another Nixon, fiendishly plotting and raving whenever the cameras are off. He seemed to enjoy a sort of literal grace - justified in the eyes of the Lord. But the modern world isn't comfortable with old Puritan notions of predestination and grace, and the obvious answers were nonsense on the face of the matter.

His besetting sins were neglect, and disregard. He was far more tolerant of the faults of others than his politics would have suggested, and he had the Hollywood trait of being able to ignore those aspects of others which might otherwise cause discord, anger, or acrimony. But, likewise, he didn't see what didn't fit his world-view, and his children have been very public about how they felt neglected and unappreciated by their distant father. The greatest tragedy of his administration was the neglect of the building AIDS epidemic, and the unwillingness to see the horror, because it was occurring within a segment of society which Reagan refused to look at that which he could not reconcile with his principles.

Dementia took him long before the final illness, and in a sense, he's been gone from us for ten years or more. Nothing in this world makes me doubt the hereafter more than Alzheimers, the way that the disease takes its victims a fragment at a time, flaying the intellect and the mind, peeling the man like an onion, until nothing is left but tears. Where is a soul, in that ugly dissolution?

There was a woman in the assisted living home, who was terribly disoriented and confused, and she would let out these heart-rending wails of "Help! Help!" from her chair. When I first heard it, I though that someone had broken a hip, and I mentioned it to the woman at the front desk, who went off to look into the problem. Later, when we were walking my grandmother through the dining room, I saw the woman in question, still pitiably crying for help in a place that might have been called a home, but wasn't for her. My grandmother is terribly forgetful, and can't remember things like when to take her pills, but she doesn't have that inability to remember the self which is the curse of Alzheimers. She's lucid, and my hope is that she will not lose herself before the world loses her. We drove past her old house, down the street from Passavants', and she was so happy that she could recognize and remember the little white-brick place. High-care nursing homes can be terrifying places, when you're surrounded on all sides with the wreck that age makes of us in the end. It breeds a certain paranoia, that what you're seeing and hearing is the future.

While I and one of my cousins from the other side of the family were moving furniture into her new room, I noticed that a couple of young missionaries were holding a prayer meeting, or a Sunday-school session in a room off the front hall. This kid, younger that I, was lecturing a group of about a half-dozen elderly on the fulfilled promises of Christ. I was disturbed, to see the right order of things so inverted, to hear an old lady ask a sleek young boy about some point of scripture or theology, and hear him reply in smug truisms. What right does youth have to lecture to age? They are the ones on the edge of eternity, or the abyss. If anyone can know which it is, it's those on the cliff. How dare you stand in open fields of promise and lecture?

My grandmother isn't going to be staying in the assisted-living place for long - six months or so until the retirement house down in Florida is finished, my father wraps up his retirement, and they all move south. So it isn't a permanent situation, and she should be OK. I just wish I could do more…

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