Summer classes here at
The inspiration for this series of classes came from my summer vacation, now ending. I spent a little over two weeks back home in
A few years ago, Mom was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. She’s 83 now, and the disease has taken noticeable hold despite the meds she’s been on. Her short-term memory is notoriously unreliable, so she doesn’t recall much about conversations. Each morning, she would ask about our plans for the day and we would tell her, but she usually couldn’t retain it for long, and would ask again multiple times as the day and week progressed. Several times each day, she would be unable to find rooms in the house that she’s lived in for the past 51 years, going into the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, and the office in search of the bathroom. Periodically, she would misplace either my identity or my sister’s, asking questions of us as if we were strangers (“How many people are in your family?”), but if we asked her who we were, prompting her to concentrate on us, she would get us back after a moment or two of thinking.
She also experiences the occasional paranoia and frequent hallucinations that go with Alzheimer’s. She often sees and speaks to people who aren’t there, and doesn’t always believe us when we tell her that we can’t see them. Because she sees them and they are real to her, she occasionally thinks that we’ve sold the house or taken in boarders without telling her, and she worries about things they might do. During her paranoid episodes, although she’ll sometimes agree with us, it’s often apparent that she thinks she’s humoring us by agreeing. No amount of reassurance actually seems to overcome the paranoia attacks until they’ve run their course and she forgets them, until the next time one occurs. Some of them are recurring ones.
Despite all of this, however, Mom retains her sunny nature. Most of the time, she knows that what’s happening to her is because of the disease, and while she gets frustrated and embarrassed sometimes when she forgets what she’s doing, where she meant to go, or how to do even simple things like getting dressed, she puts it behind her. My sister, who’s a nurse, got Mom’s doctor to prescribe strength training exercises for her, and she attacks them with a will when we tell her that it’s exercise time despite the stress and discomfort they cause her, appreciating that they’ve improved her balance, mobility, and ability to lift things.
Mom enjoys traveling with us and experiencing new things, and while she no longer has enough of an attention span to appreciate museums, her attention could be caught by funny things, by movement, and by interactions with people. She tires quickly and often zones out, but her attention could return in spurts, and in those moments, she could process memories that she could call back again when we spoke about them later, reminding her about what we’d done. Some of them, she would even bring up spontaneously. Funny details from the estate tour at Ten Chimneys (home of Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne), like the artist being told not to bother painting the walls behind pieces of furniture because the furniture would never be moved; the prompt, impressive obedience of a huge Clydesdale horse to purely verbal commands, and the intelligence and humor of another gelding tapping a metal gate impatiently with one front hoof to remind his trainer that he was due a treat; the beauty of Lippizan stallions dancing to music, and the funny antics of month-old foals exposed to a crowd of people for only the second time in their lives – these things stayed with her, and kept bringing smiles back.
You’re probably wondering where Dean Winchester and Supernatural come into this story, so I’ll get to the point.
I found myself thinking about Dean for several reasons. An obvious one was feeling gratitude for being together with family and having the chance to make more memories with my Mom. I didn’t take a single minute of this vacation for granted. Every night, Terry and I tucked Mom into bed much the same way she had done for us when we were little, and we shared every possible opportunity along the way for hugs, laughs, and closeness. I crave those things as much as Dean, but I still have the chance to store them up against the time that they won’t be there any more, except in memory. Thinking about Dean and his loss made me appreciate what I still have all the more. I couldn’t help but remember how avidly Dean drank in his mother’s touch and the delights of a “normal” life during his djinn-induced hallucination in What Is and What Should Never Be, and no matter that he knows that none of it actually happened, I would guess that he still cherishes those memories of touch and happiness in the silence of his heart. I cling to mine, even to the ones tainted by the losses caused by Alzheimer’s.
There are a lot of ugly things about this disease, but the way that Mom deals with them, and the way that I found to deal with them, was to take a page from Dean and live in the moment. Although he’s always been haunted by the past and his perceived failings in it, we’ve all seen that Dean lives very strongly in the present. He doesn’t spend a lot of time wondering or worrying about the future, and on the occasions that he did – especially in the first half of the second season, when he was carrying the burden of knowing that if he failed to save Sam, he might have to kill him – he nearly killed himself with the despair of it. Once he unburdened himself of his secrets, dealt with his fears, resurrected his brother, and saw his father’s spirit freed from hell, he returned to living in the present moment, and his innate optimism and courage resurfaced and took charge. By the very end of All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2, despite facing having to deal with an army of demons and spirits escaped from hell and knowing that his life and soul will be forfeit at the end of a year unless Sam can figure a way out, Dean positively grinned when he said, “We’ve got work to do,” accepting and enjoying that he was alive and united with his brother with a hunting challenge to meet.
Focusing on the moment, on fully experiencing and savoring what the present has to offer, magnifies the joy in life. Being in the now means that it doesn’t matter how often you need to repeat what you’ve said before for someone who can’t remember it, because in the now, you don’t dwell on what you did before and get impatient with having to do it again. Living in the now, you don’t become paralyzed by the fear of what may come next; you don’t let the possibility of future pain and loss prevent your enjoyment of what you have now. You don’t forget the past and its lessons, and you don’t neglect the practical components of planning for the future, but you don’t let either of those things interfere with appreciating and truly living in the present.
And that’s one of the positive life lessons that I take away from knowing Dean Winchester. There are a host of others he has to offer, including compassion, faithfulness, dedication, courage, self-sacrifice, and love, but I’ll start with his gift for living in the moment.
Future classes will revisit Dean, and will also address lessons from Sam, John, Bobby Singer, and Ellen Harvelle. I hope you’ll attend, and contribute what you’ve taken away from what they all have to teach.
Amusing Notes from Vacation
And now, outside of class, two amusing little Supernatural anecdotes from my
Last Thursday, the three of us – Mom, Terry, and I – spent a lovely day at the horse races at beautiful
Saturday provided two additional fun moments, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. In the course of the day, as I was walking and driving around
Somewhere, they’re out there, waiting to be found …