Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reflections as a New Year Begins

 Is 2010 over already?

Man, that went fast.  My 9th grade math teacher told me that “from now on, every year for the rest of your life will go faster.”  So far, he’s been right.

In terms of the Project, I couldn’t have asked for a better 2010.  In July I partnered with the great folks at the Alzheimer’s Association and embarked on my first ever national tour.  It’s a special experience to literally carry you story from city to city (along with a cardboard box full of art supplies).  Thanks so much to all of you out there (both caregivers and afflicted) who sat around those tables, bravely shared your stories, and got your hands dirty for the cause.  I have so many postcards in my Spaces treasure chest now I have to use my knee to close it.  And though, in terms of putting it together, I may be living up to my childhood nickname of “Poky” (you can imagine my family waiting impatiently in the car as I saunter out the front door—always the last one out—shoes untied, dragging my coat behind), I promise I am in the process of doing something special with the cards.    

2010 was a year of breakthroughs.  After years of persistence, we finally got the National Alzheimer’s Project Act signed into law—a huge and important milestone.  I feel proud to have gone down to Capitol Hill last March and been a part of it.  There was also some breakthrough research about the importance of non-pharmacological care for Alzheimer’s/Dementia patients, especially as related to the arts.  In a way, these studies are confirming what we knew all along: that while a person afflicted with Alzheimer’s may seem withdrawn or “vanished”, they still respond to human touch, to loving attention, and to art.  Even as spatial logic and reasoning blurs, emotion persists.  Huge thanks to all the caregivers out there.  Your strength inspires me.        

For me personally, 2010 was a year of great highs and lows.  On the high side (besides all the great things happening with the project) my younger brother Mark wed his longtime girlfriend, Sarah, in August.  Almost all of our 700 billion cousins, aunts, and uncles were there to dance like idiots.  Somewhere, my mother is still laughing about the preposterous song and dance my brother Will and I punctuated our best man speech with.  In my 28 years, it was the happiest I’d ever seen her.

There was also sadness, however, as my grandmother wasn’t there to see it.  She died on June 9.  Though she had lived a long and full life, it was still hard to let her go (and indeed to imagine a family party without her holding court in her oversized sunglasses). 

I was both honored and terrified when I was asked to deliver the eulogy. 

“Why me?” I asked. 

“Because you won’t cry.” 

“And because you were her godchild.”

“But mostly because you won’t cry.” 

Before the service I met with my mom and her sisters; everyone contributed memories, and anecdotes; and then it was time to go away and write.  I stared at the blinking cursor for hours.  How do you even begin to sum up such a life, of which you’ve only seen such a small fraction?       

I think the key when you’re stuck on something (writing, grief, heartbreak ect) is to keep moving.  Keep busy.  Push outward.  I wasn’t doing myself any good spinning circles in my chair, staring at the ceiling.  

And so I decided to…clean out my sock drawer.  Yeah.  If yours is anything like mine, it looks like the 4th grade Lost & Found: stuffed with all kinds of birthday cards, receipts, buttons and loose change (I think there was an umbrella in there) not to mention socks. 

I arranged all the socks in linear fashion on the floor—business socks here, athletic socks there—and found that I had a staggering nine orphans.  NINE!  (This may be some kind of record.  Apparently my socks are like charged particles: opposites attract.)      

The whole process took me about 15 minutes.  Afterward, I looked down at the orderly drawer with a sense of accomplishment.  And as I stood there, it struck me how I’d start my grandmother’s eulogy.  (No, it had nothing to do with socks.)  I hurried over to the laptop.  The first passage catalyzed the second, and so on.  I was proud of what I came up with.        

You have to create your own momentum, I think.  Even if it’s with one small stupid act.  So perhaps that’s good to keep in mind as we cross into a new year. 

Here’s to a wonderful, surprising, productive 2011.

Very best,
Your friend,

Matt

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