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Sometimes

By Maralise Petersen

I forget you don’t know me.

You see, if you knew me you might know that I love loud clothes and found art and street food. You might know that I’m the pessimist of the family, that no matter how old I get my mom still calls me “baby,” and that rearranging furniture is not a chore, but a PRIVILEGE for me. You might remember me from grade school, the girl with ruffly underwear paired with stretch pants or from college, the one who left the library only when it locked its doors. You might know that I like to eat alone and that my children are wild. But, you don’t know me. You probably never will.

In George Clare’s memoir, “The Last Waltz in Vienna,” he describes the ideas that converged in the Germanic regions between the World Wars. And he describes his family’s fate as a result of those ideas. But, most of all, he talks about his own sometimes boyish interpretation of the events that carved the destiny of the Jews in Europe and that indeed changed the future of the world.

Many years after WWII, he returned to Vienna; to the apartment where he grew up. He says, “And I had to accept that my parents had lived in two flats: the flat the eyes of the boy had seen and recorded, and the flat as it really was, the one the eyes of the man were looking at.”

After my husband’s grandfather fell and had to be hospitalized, I stayed with grandma before the decision was made to have her care taken over by professionals. She has Alzheimer’s Disease and the days when her incredible sense of humor could hide her inner turmoil had ended. Up until this point, Grandpa had met every wish and comforted her every fear. Now the rest of us had to learn to calm a woman whose nerves were raw and whose mind did not have the capacity to right itself.

Sometimes, Grandma and I talked about the past, sometimes we talked about Grandpa, but most of the time was spent fighting the figurative fires created in her imagination. We looked out the window together to make sure there was nobody coming to get us. We checked the locks. We talked about “those people” and “that woman” and waited for their approach. In order to calm her down, I had to understand her irrationality and then counter it with something that would make sense not to me, but to her. It was terrifying. Not because I really thought someone was coming to get us, but because I knew that she did. Her world was confused, it was irrational, and to her, it was very real.

This experience has made me wonder about memory. I wonder what parts of our brain record what “really” happens and what parts record what we wish would have happened or what we fear might have happened?

I wonder what lens I look through to see the reality of my life? What lens will I look through when I’m old, when I’m dead, when I’m resurrected, when I’m home. What thoughts taint my own reality? And once I find out, should I wish for a cure? For some reason, that feels wrong. Instead, maybe I’ll simply write it all down, help someone understand how I view the world. Maybe if I do, you’ll know me then. And we can sit and talk, about you.

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About Maralise Petersen

(Emerita)

6 thoughts on “Sometimes”

  1. This is the stuff of my college philosophy classes! I remember arguing for hours about the metaphysical reality of history. Where does history exist? Does it exist only through the lens of a subjective beholder, or does it exist as a firm absolute, tainted only by our own lens of subjectivity? I see so much of my life differently as I pass different stages of development. But does that make the story line actually change, or just my feelings about it?

    It's an interesting discussion to have. Is a tainted reality really tainted at all, since it is real and absolute for you at that moment? It doesn't make it any less painful when someone else portends to you that the reality you are living isn't actually real.

    Oooh, you hit one of my beloved memories with this topic. I could go on and on and on and on…

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  2. Towards the end of my grandfather's life, his caretaker called my mother in a panic, because he was wondering around the apartment, complaining he was lost. A normally gentle man, he was adament that he needed to find his way home, and was getting slightly violent. My mother came to his rescue, showing up and taking him by the arm, saying, "I know the way home, Daddy", and gently told him, as they walked around the apartment, that they were turning on this street, and this other street, and finally, when they got to his bedroom, she gently put him back to bed. All it took to calm him down was somebody inside his own world.

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  3. The last couple of days of my mother-in-law's life, she kept trying to get out of her hospital bed, over and over.

    I think the lens we'll look through when we're resurrected will be the one that allows us to see eye to eye. It will be the one in Darlene's poem, where we sit on a park bench with people from our lives and we chat, and we see eye to eye with them, see each other as the Lord see us.

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  4. I find it fascinating to think about the lens I see the world through. It's part of what makes me. I see through the lens of being a redhead, of being the eldest grandchild, of hating the taste of fish and having words tumble through my head, and that's only a few grains of the sand that make my lens.

    I look forward to one day being able to look with the true lens and see my life, and being able to look at others lives, and being able to understand why.

    "Was blind, but now I see".

    I am really looking forward to that!

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  5. From Philip Roth's *American Pastoral*:

    "And since we don't just forget things because they don't matter but also forget things because they matter too much–because each of us remembers and forgets in a pattern whose labyrinthine windings are an identification mark no less distinctive than a fingerprint–it's no wonder that the shards of reality one person will cherish as a biography can seem to someone else who, say, happened to have eaten some ten thousand dinners at the very same kitchen table, to be a willful excursion into mythomania."

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  6. Hello all–thank you for your comments on this post. I'm not sure there are answers to the questions that I posed but here are some thoughts that have been swimming in my brain in response to this discussion.

    Justine–"Is tainted reality really tainted at all?": I think there is a point where tainted reality is a less clear, even harmful version of the events that surround a person. Mental illness is one example of tainted reality that is destructive to self/others. Alzheimer's obviously creates a type of tainted reality that is definitely far removed from the actual events of a person's life. I do think there are "types" or "interpretations" of reality that are more valid, believable, "truthful" than others. However, reality is always subjective, always. And because of that, we could forever argue about the validity of one person's version of reality over another. The history of historical inquiry proves this point endlessly.

    Heather O.–I think really attempting to understand another person's mind/heart/feelings is the fulfillment of one of the most complete forms of charity. Even if that person is irrational, illogical, and mentally ill in some way. In fact, even more so in that case.

    Emily M. and Kel–Em, I think you're right, the ability to see "eye to eye" is what I was trying to explain above in my response to Justine. However, I also believe that we will still have our own unique "view" not to be overtaken by that of the Lord's but to be supplemented by it. In other words, I think the god-given uniqueness that we possess will still be there in the eternities.

    Deborah–must. read. it. Thank you. I think one could argue blogs are the most salient current example of "willful excursion into mythomania." And if so, what is their value? And if not, what is their value? Interesting questions…

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