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Glen Pearson

Life Among the Stones – First Kiss (Chapter 12)

Posted on January 20, 2019

The morning began with a light rain that gave way to sparsely clouded skies before the lunch hour. Alberta slept in and, upon rising, commented, “O dear, what did I miss?” She was looking at the wrinkled clothes she had slept in for over 12 hours. She had no idea how it happened.
“You were exhausted following that walk, Mom. You didn’t even want dinner, only to sleep. Remember any of it?”
Her daughter’s question received only a confused stare in response. She watched as her mother thought hard, working her way back through the hours to that moment Jenny was referring to, but it was gone – likely permanently.
“I’m sorry if I caused you any difficulty … or embarrassment, Jen. O my, I feel like I should be a little embarrassed myself.” She looked in the mirror at her image and added, “I suppose this is something I have to get used to – we have to get used to.”
Jennifer came up behind her mother, placing her hands on her still strong shoulders. “No matter, Mrs. Alexander. What is before us is what matters and that would be Holyrood Castle. If you’re ready, that is?” They looked in the mirror and burst out laughing. Alberta looked as though she had been stuffed into a suitcase overnight, her clothing in various states of disarray and her hair beyond any semblance of style.
An hour later, they entered through the doors of Holyrood Palace – one of the summer escapes for the royal family. Situated at the lower end of the Royal Mile, it was built in the 16th century, constructed more for grandeur than protection. Unlike the other great elevated castle down the Royal Mile, its lower symmetrical profile suited the beautiful gardens and trees around the estate. It was ultimately to these grounds that Alberta was drawn when they first arrived in the mid-morning.
They weren’t so much expansive as they were the perfect setting for the castle itself. Though Alberta hadn’t walked the grounds in nearly eight decades, she moved through them with a practiced precision as opposed to merely wandering. She told Jennifer of how the gardens were the setting for tournaments, hunting, hawking, and archery. There was even a tennis court and a menagerie with a range of animals, including lions, tigers and bears.
“My aunt told me of how these grounds where we stand offered the right of sanctuary for those who could not pay their debts. They found shelter here and were able to avoid prison. At one point, there were over 6,000 debtors camped here, including some of the aristocracy who had fallen on hard times.”
Especially enchanting to Jennifer was her mother’s tale of how her aunt and uncle had brought her here for Queen Mary’s annual tea and garden party. “Apparently, I shook the Queen’s hand, but I’ve never had a recollection of it. But I did see Princess Elizabeth playing in the distance, though I never got to speak to her.”
Her mother’s eyes gazed skyward, and she appeared as lost in a dream. “It was on that day that a mixed squadron of Spitfires and Hurricanes flew over in salute of the royal presence. It must have been 1940 and the war was at its bleakest. I looked at my uncle, and then at all the people around, and they were all weeping. It was our darkest hour, and even as a young girl I knew the times were precarious.”
And then, suddenly, Alberta was off in the direction of a group of trees on the perimeter. Jennifer dutifully followed, at a loss as to what was happening. Alberta entered the overgrowth, clearly looking for something.
“Ah, yes, it was right here,” she said in exultation.
“What? What do you mean?” her daughter asked.
“Oh, I don’t know if I should say. It was highly provocative, even for an eight-year-old.” She started to leave until she saw the bewildered face of her daughter. “Okay, but it’s a secret, Jenny – not to be put in that journal of yours. Promise?”
Her daughter, drawn in to the magical world of children, nodded affirmatively and waited expectantly for whatever came next.
Suddenly, eyes filled with wonder, Alberta said, “This was the place of my first kiss – right here, under this tree. Tommy St. John was from Leeds, sent up, like me, to escape the war. He was two years older. O, my, it was wonderful.”
“He kissed you and you were only eight!” Jennifer exclaimed. It wasn’t a question.
“No, honey, not at all. I kissed him.”
In a moment of what could only be poignant ecstasy, the younger woman’s eyes were alight as if she had witnessed fairies darting through the trees. She now understood that her mother had been a flirt, a tease, and that realization filled her with respect and delight. Even she hadn’t done any such thing at that age, despite having grown up in a more permissive time.
She glanced up at her mother and saw a look that was more high-spirited than anything else. This is her, my mother, as she truly was, she thought to herself. No wonder Dad fell for her so hard.
Alberta was patting the bark of one of the trees with the palm of her hand. “It was right here that Tommy suggested we carve our initials, but I wouldn’t permit it. ‘This is the King’s land I said. You don’t do such things here.’”
And yet kissing was okay? Jennifer delighted herself in thinking. Here was another one of those great contradictions of her mother – a firebrand and a traditionalist at the same time. Jennifer was just too surprised to utter a word.
Later, they enjoyed salmon sandwiches and tea at the Café at the Palace, a quaint eatery on the grounds. Alberta continued, for over an hour, with her narrative of those earlier enchanted years. They were stories Jennifer had never known. It’s funny, she thought, how you think your parents’ lives only began when you were born. It was a kind of selfishness that could only be excused because of youth.
It was during this conversation that Jennifer learned that Alberta’s parents – her grandparents – had once come to Edinburgh to visit their daughter. Her father had been one of the key operators of an airbase in southern England, while her mother had worked at a munitions factory and also assisted in getting people to the bomb shelters whenever the German Heinkel bombers appeared overhead.
“I think it took them only a moment to realize that I had settled in well up here. They seemed relieved. On the second evening, just prior to their leaving, my father took me for a walk through these very grounds, He was testing me, I think, to see if I was truly okay. I told him of my adventures, though certainly not of Tommy St. John,” she said, with a mischievous grin. “He left satisfied that I had adapted, but he was wrong – so wrong.”
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Jennifer.
“I knew how difficult it must have been for both of them, so I lied, I prevaricated, I turned my face – anything to keep him from seeing that I missed them terribly. The moment I saw them again I became terribly homesick and life in Edinburgh was never the same after that. They were such wonderful people, but they were living in a world where the curtain could come down at any time. I knew then that I should have been with them, as a family, whatever the outcome. I had a role to play, too, regarding the defense of this wonderful country, and it was to be with my mother and father, giving them the joy that only I could offer as their only child, and helping in any way I could.
“I think that’s when I really grew up. It was the bigger world that was calling me – the one in the clutches of life and death. Who was I to play among these wonderful trees when not that many miles to the south, people, like my mother and father, were living, loving, fighting and praying as though the next day might be their last. Those were the kind of people I wanted to be with. And, from that point on, I wrote them every day, begging to be brought back to London. I was so relentless that they eventually gave in, and two months later at the end of the great Battle of Britain, I was placed on a train heading south.”
“And how was it?” Jenny asked.
“It was awful … and, O, so wonderful. We were bombed every night for months and months. People we knew were lost in the rubble, and, at times, we lived more in air raid shelters than we did at home. But we were together, and I was so emotionally ready to take my place in the adult world, along with those responsibilities that come with it.”
“But, Mom, you were only what … 10?”
“Nine, actually. But honestly, Jen, I had become an adult because a darkening world demanded it. And, in the end, I believe my parents were happier because of my presence.”
Alberta looked around at the ancient building they were nestled in. “This wonderful city, these two great palaces, formed my last innocent moments before a troubled world called for my participation. I had suddenly grown old enough, through my parents’ visit, to understand the concept of duty; I cherished it and I embraced it.”
This was truly precious to Jennifer. She knew nothing like this when she was the same age, but somehow a greater cause had turned her mother into a greater person, even as a child. It was remarkable. And that sense of duty, so much a part of Alberta’s generation, became an essential element of her life as she later married Sandy, had children, and led a successful career. She had never permitted herself to be defined by those things, however. Her mind and soul were too big to be held by anything other than a bigger life.
Later, they dined in the hotel’s famous restaurant. Alberta continued on with her revelations, pausing only to eat. Her mother spoke far more than normal, and Jennifer understood that it was, at least partially, the dementia that was causing the proliferation of accounts of Alberta’s young life.
Jennifer had ordered the lamb, while her mother heartily ate a Scottish meat pie. They were sharing a bowl of traditional bread pudding for dessert when Jenny noticed something quite odd. Her mother just sat erect, her hand having placed the spoon down on the table. All conversation had ceased.
“Mom, you okay? Mom?”
It was then that the older woman shed silent tears, refusing to wipe them away with her hand or the napkin. Jennifer rose and came to her. It took only a second for her to understand what had happened – the smell of urine was unmistakable. Alberta had been wearing one of her favourite fashionable dresses – a coral-coloured garment with patterning. It effectively masked any stain that might have been obvious otherwise.
Jenny went to the waitress and explained the situation. The young woman, red-haired and deeply freckled, told Jenny to leave everything with her. Then, as unobtrusively as possible, the two women proceeded to the elevator and directly to their room.
Thirty minutes later, Alberta was in her bed, properly cleaned and outfitted in her dressing gown. Her eyes wide open, they nevertheless conveyed a saddening portrait of personal shame and embarrassment. Jennifer had tried all she could to improve the mood, but to no avail.
A short while later, there was a knock on the heavy wooden door. When Jennifer quietly answered it, she saw that it was the red-haired girl from the restaurant. “This is silly, I know, but my Mom endures a similar condition. I just thought this might help.” She handed Jennifer a plastic hot water bottle, the kind Alberta would have known so well from youth. Jen moved forward and kissed the girl lightly on the cheek.
“I don’t know what to say but thank you. That is one of the most thoughtful things I have ever seen.” The girl merely bowed slightly, and was gone.
When the bottle was handed to Alberta, she appeared not to notice, so Jennifer left it on the bed beside her. Five minutes later, the older woman reached out and brought the plastic container to her abdomen and wrapped herself around it in the fetal position. Eventually the soft sounds of singing came from Alberta. They were war tunes, Jenny knew. Her mother was as a child. The hot water bottle had done the trick.
Jennifer brought out her journal to write, but the sounds of her mother’s melodious voice were somewhat soothing to her as well. She closed the book, changed into her nightclothes, and crawled in beside Alberta, spooning her and caressing her hair. It was time to go home, she knew – to cut the trip short by two days. Jenny understood that something had altered, and that her mother was entering a new phase of her disease. Alberta knew it too, and part of the shame she was experiencing was the knowledge that she hadn’t been able to prevent this moment, for all her efforts.
Yet, as she hugged the warm bottle and felt someone’s fingers run through her hair, Alberta sang The White Cliffs of Dover in memory of her mother and father. And as she did so, Jennifer wept and sang along in memory of her very special mother.

Stitched Panorama

Life Among the Stones – To the Castle and Beyond (Chapter 11)

Posted on January 19, 2019

Alberta had wanted to walk from the Principal Hotel to the base of Edinburgh Castle and then along the winding road to the top of the great cliff.??It had been a mistake.??The ups and downs of the trek had tired Jennifer, but had exhausted her mother.?The uneven conditions of the alleys and pathways had made for precarious walking, leaving Jennifer to reach for and steady her mother on more than a few occasions.

They talked frequently along the way but concentrated mostly on putting one foot in front of the other in order to get to the base of the great castle.  There were clouds coasting through the increasingly pale blue sky but mostly the sun was permitted to shine freely over the ancient city.  

At last, they made it to a tea room close to the roadway entrance that climbed, sometimes dangerously, up one side of the castle and down the other.  They both knew that a well-earned break was necessary, so they settled down to Earl Grey tea and a smattering of pastries and jams.  Jenny pined for her usual morning coffee but entered the spirit of the moment and ordered the same flavoured tea as her mother. Having departed early in the morning, they arrived at the shop shortly after it opened.  They had the place largely to themselves.  

The great castle itself towered over everything around it, a dark and looming presence.  Even the brilliant sun couldn’t wipe away the shadow of the cliffs or the reminder of a darker age when division, war, and conquest had placed a pall over the lives of ordinary people.

Recalling her thoughts of the previous evening regarding Alberta’s purposeful move into her past, Jennifer sought to pursue that past by asking: “Did your aunt and uncle live near the castle, or farther away?”

Drawn and slightly stooped from the lengthy walk, Alberta, nevertheless, perked up at the inquiry. “They lived on Chesser Avenue for a time, near the old Corn Exchange.  The smell from all the corn filled entire neighbourhoods, but we got used to it.  Then uncle Stanley got a wonderful job as a supervisor of some kind at Holyrood Palace. That came with a house on Princess Street, in the Old Town.  He had been a wounded officer from the Great War and the government at the time worked hard to find suitable employment for those maimed and mangled from all that carnage. He never talked about it, but always walked with a limp, and he was friendly to everyone.”

“Princess Street – that’s Edinburgh’s main avenue, isn’t it?” asked Jenny, warming to the subject.

“One of the most beautiful thoroughfares in the world, especially at this time of year.  We crossed it a couple of times this morning on the way here, but it was in the less busy, less touristy section.  We’re now in the thick of the most popular location in the city.”

“Do you remember much of it?”

“All of it.  I always have.  Those were the days when adults thought the world might be coming to an end, as the German forces threatened to invade at any moment.  They were always serious and full of a certain kind of dread. But, Jenny, they were marvellous in the way they just soldiered on, keeping life as normal as possible for the children.  I think it was us that gave them hope and kept focusing them on the future.  As children, far away from home, we were blithely unaware of all that – other than the distance that separated us from our families.”

The conversation went on for the better part of 90 minutes, during which time the air got warmer and the room filled with visitors.  For Jennifer, it was an education.  She learned things about her mother that a hectic life in Clerkenwell never allowed for. Too young to go to school, Alberta had journeyed over the fields of the Meadows and Holyrood itself.  Back then, there were no security issues, only the need for children to be careful that they didn’t fall or get lost.  Alberta knew all the alleys, shops, and famous landmarks.  She even knew if anyone from the Royal family was in town on a brief visit to build up national morale.   One moment, in particular, stood out.

“I encountered a young woman in a bakery on Royal Mile – the most famous part of Princess Street.  She was with her younger sister, and they were looking for some special kind of tarts, which the shop didn’t have because of rationing.  Instead, she bought some scones with raisins, and, as she was leaving, she reached into the bag and handed me one, which I downed without chewing.  She smiled at me, shook my hand, and then the two of them started walking towards Holyrood, where the Royal Family always vacationed every summer.  A man in uniform scolded me for the manner in which I devoured the scone and told me that I should have curtsied.  ‘For what?’ I said, rather too boldly, I think.  ‘Everyone is to curtsey when they speak to either Princess Elizabeth or Princess Margaret.’  That kind girl was about to become the Queen of England and I hadn’t thought anything of it.”  It was an amazing moment of serendipity that Jenny was determined to pen into her journal that evening.

In truth, Alberta’s fatigue eased her passage into the past.  It was a difficult thing for Jennifer to distinguish between what were the urgings of dementia and what were merely the fond memories of a remarkable older woman in her right mind.  What she was hearing in this quiet interlude were things she had never heard before. They memorably filled out aspects of her mother’s life, helping to explain what had contributed to her healthy personality and broader perspective.

Alberta Alexander had spent her earliest years away from home, in terrible seasons of war.  She had been gifted with a remarkable setting upon which to build her young life.  How tragic it is,Jenny thought, that here I am, almost 50, and I’m only learning some treasured things about my mother in the final eclipse of her life. Why is life always like this, always playing catch-up when it’s so late in the day?

Ten minutes later, they began their slow ascent.  Alberta’s years of walking prepared her, even better than her daughter, for the upward trek. They would stop every few minutes, always looking up at the massive stone structure that dwarfed everything around it.

What they were traversing was an 800 million-year-old extinct volcano, though few realized it. There had always been a royal castle on it since the 11thcentury, and it owned the distinction of being one of the most attacked castles in the world, enduring despite 26 different sieges.  It was truly impressive, becoming Scotland’s number one tourist attraction.

The sun had brought out other visitors, all making the same trek and rubbing the back of their necks after craning them upwards to look at the imposing structure.  Alberta and Jennifer  stopped for lemonade partway up, and peered below to the ancient city and its most famous street.

“They call this cliff Castle Rock,” her mother noted.  “As a wee girl, and if we were lucky enough, someone would give us long, cylindrical hard candies called Castle Rock and we devoured them.  I think the whole city knew we were separated from our families and they attempted to fill that vacuum with their own brand of generosity, which was immense but humble.  If you look off into the distance there, at the end of the Royal Mile, you’ll see Holyrood Castle, where Uncle Stanley worked.

Eventually, they made it to the top, but instead of touring the military buildings, Alberta asked that they just sit along the wall looking out over the massive cliffs and the entire city beyond.  Jennifer purchased sandwiches and tea from a vendor and joined her mother.

They were silent for some time until Alberta reflected: “Every evening, weather permitting, we gathered down there on the sidewalk closest to the castle and watched as a lone piper walked these battlements up here, dressed in full Scottish regalia, and playing soulful tunes.  We watched him walk from here to the far corner over there, and then back.  And we cried – O how we wept.  I think the adults broke down because of their history and their concern that there might not be a future.  We younger ones cried because everyone else was, I think, but also because we missed our parents.  But perhaps more than anything we collectively sighed at the sheer beauty of the tone and the notes.  Something primitive was calling us back because we needed that pull as we faced our own dark hour.”

Jenny had heard of the piper, but never in such beautiful language.  And then the allegory struck her.  Just as that previous generation had permitted themselves to be drawn back into the deep mysteries of their past so they could endure the present and hope for the future, so too her mother had permitted the dementia to tug at her memories and emotions as a way of holding on to who she essentially was.  Jennifer realized now that her mother likely had figured this out already and had let go of the mooring of her thoughts, permitting herself to be pulled along by the currents of a mystical past.  And just as the piper had consoled and given meaning to the residents of the great city, so Alberta discovered deep roots of strength from somewhere her family would never comprehend.

With the sun moving farther to the east, the air took on a distinct chill, and both women agreed it was best to hail one of the cabs from a station located partway down the descending road.  Alberta had a dream-like quality in her gaze as she stretched her neck around to look at the various sights drifting past her.  Jennifer considered asking questions but thought better of it once she realized what an eventful day they had shared.

Once back at the Principal, Alberta announced she would forego dinner and, instead, go straight to bed, even though the clock only showed 7:20.  As she started to undress, Alberta suddenly reversed her routine and proceeded to put the clothes back on, including her sweater.  Her daughter watched it all transpire, willing her mother to catch the error and get ready for bed.  After a few minutes, it was clear that intervention was needed and she rose to help her mother reverse the process.  With her jaw firmly clenched, Alberta, at first, merely stood ramrod straight, complicating the process for Jenny.  Then she crossed her arms, making the removal of the wool sweater impossible.

“Mom, come, it’s time for bed.  Let me help you.”

Alberta said nothing, not even indicating she had heard anything.  When Jenny tried again, she got the same response, only this time her mother looked prepared to start pushing back.  Jenny could see the confused expression on her face, and felt a surge of compassion.  This was the way it was going to be in the future, she realized, and instead of provoking a reaction, she lay on the far side of her mother’s bed and merely smiled at her.

Things remained this way for some time, the perplexity on Alberta’s features slowly fading.  At last, she smiled back at the prone form on the bed and simply laid down beside her daughter.  Jenny kissed her on the cheek.  “Good night, Mom.  I love you – very much.”

“And I love you more than I can possibly say, which is quite something coming from a journalist,” Alberta answered.  Her voice was assured, calm, and emotional.  She’s back,Jennifer thought – the spell has passed.  It was likely that her mother had no idea what had happened, but it was enough that they were reunited once more in the same time and with welcome clarity regarding their relationship.  They embraced until Alberta nodded off.

Two hours later, Jennifer rose and pulled her journal from her bag.  With a steady hand, she began putting down on the lined pages the rather stunning things she had discovered about her mother in the last few hours – Princess Elizabeth, Holyrood, the piper on the wall, and the Caste Rock candies. These would be treasures in later years. She found herself wishing she had children to pass them on to, but a failed early marriage had removed that from the possibilities of her life.  There was Trevor, from work.  She had been seeing him for six months, but who knew where that would lead. Regardless, all her energies right now needed to be placed on the sleeping form in front of her, and if that meant the romantic relationship with Trevor died from lack of attention, then there was no other choice.

But now, as she looked at Alberta, she was beginning to realize that a romance of another kind was emerging – the knowledge that the woman before her was not only amazing, but a person of great heritage with a rich past.  Jennifer was all in now, determined to see this to the end.  She had expected it to be brutal, as it is for every caregiver, but something about the depth and determination of her mother was pulling her into a broader and more meaningful kind of existence.  With a smile on her face, she understood that she was falling in love with Alberta Alexander all over again.

More Vulnerable Than We Think

Posted on January 18, 2019

Their stories weren’t of the tragic kind, but in listening to some of the 800,000 American government workers who have been living without a wage during the country’s longest government shutdown, one couldn’t help but feel for them.  They had done nothing to deserve such treatment, yet they are losing mortgages, selling their cars, prematurely dipping into their retirement savings, and, in some painful images, taking their kids out of college.  If there is a trait of tragedy about the entire thing, it is to be found in the partisan mess that is American politics at the moment and how political leaders have become so calloused to the plight of millions – even if those workers are the ones actually keeping the government going instead of the political masters.

But there is another lesson here.  Up until a month ago, most of these workers likely felt their lives were secure and their future promising.  Now, just in missing one or two paycheques, they feel like they are on the edge of a cliff, with virtually nothing they can do about it.  Such accounts play on our heart strings, but the reality is that millions and millions of citizens living in poverty have have to endure such indignities through every minute of every day.  Many can’t locate work.  Others have employment but it’s of the minimum wage/no benefits kind.  

The numbers of those living in low-income situations is increasing in most Western nations, yet when we see the tentacles of poverty reaching into society and affecting the average lives of government workers, we realize just how near our vulnerability is. It could be that 2019 could become the year of living in fragility.  It’s possible; we’re already partway there.  It gets infuriating because, as we noted in a previous blog post, the capitalism of the wealthy might be booming but the economy of the average family is frustratingly stagnant.  It all leaves most of us too close to the possibility that our way of life could suddenly drop into the cellar, just as happened to those government workers in America.

Our democracies are clearly fragile, as evidenced with Brexit, the tumult in France, and especially the flaunting of the rule of law in the United States.  The basic essentials of our collective life have been pummelled in recent years.  Those norms of integrity, goodness, equality, truthfulness and kindness have been kicked in the teeth, and though they are still present, they are diminished by our ongoing sense of collective anger, most frequently presented on social media.

The major natural events like hurricanes, flooding, drought and seasonal alteration came closer to us this year than in recent memory.  The economic effects are massive, but it is the feeling of vulnerability that they have left us with, and our inability to pull together as humanity to fend off the worst of climate change, that quietly terrify us.

We have learned in recent years that all these challenges we face are somehow connected.  Our political, social, economic, cultural and environmental situations affect one another in ways that teach us we are more unprotected than we once believed and that unless we pull together with solid policies and citizen action, the coming 12 months could be even more dangerous. 

These words are meant to scare us because, in reality, we’re worried enough already.  They are meant to call us together and to find in our need for one another a clear reason to change our fate and reduce our fear.  The government workers in America remind us that we are closer to ruin that we imagine.

Author Margaret Mitchell reminded us that life is under no obligation to give us what we would expect. We must do that ourselves, wrestling away from all that turbulence, chaos and vulnerabiity, societies that fight for justice, fairness, a place in the sun for all of us, and, ultimately, a belief that our interdependence on one another, is our greatest hope, not only for survival, but fulfillment.

Life Among the Stones – Edinburgh (Chapter 10)

Posted on January 17, 2019

The Principal Edinburgh Hotel on George Street had been a Scottish landmark since its opening two centuries earlier – a favourite lodging of luminaries like Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.  It had never been constructed as one structure, but was an amalgamation of five different buildings that eventually became the one prominent Edinburgh hotel. 

Alberta couldn’t recall it from her youth, but the fact that some of the world’s great authors and poets stayed there when in Scotland appealed to her publishing experience.  Robin had been able to secure them a suite.  It had recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment, reclaiming much of its earlier glory and reputation.

Things only got better as they entered the door beneath eight massive pillars and walked into a lobby that exuded style, taste, and something else very special to Alberta. There was the Printing Press Bar & Kitchen, bookshelves everywhere, stuffed with literary classics – all an attempt to recapture Edinburgh’s rich literary heritage.  She gasped upon seeing actual pages from Scott’s books and his drawings of Robert Burns beneath a glass case.

“This is perfect … just perfect,” she exuded, hugging her daughter by way of appreciation.  “Thanks to you both for taking care of the details.”

They checked in at the ornate desk in the lobby and were pleased to discover, despite being early, that the suite was prepared and ready.  When a porter was called to assist with the two suitcases, Alberta demurred, saying they could handle their own luggage.  The man behind the desk simply nodded and pointed them towards the bank of elevators.

The room was lavish, but conservative – luxuriously appointed, with a clear view over George Street in the front through stately, tall windows.

When Jenny suggested a rest following the train journey, she was surprised when her mother agreed. But first, Alberta put her belongings in their proper place, including toiletries in the bathroom.  Then she kissed her daughter once on her cheek and climbed into the double bed with the plush comforter and pillows.

As she watched her mother drift off, Jennifer texted Robin to say they had arrived safely and that their mother was sleeping.  Then she sat in one of the two upholstered chairs in front of the large window and gazed out onto one of Edinburgh’s most famous streets.  But she wasn’t really noticing what was transpiring.  Rather, Jennifer revisited the conversation with her mother on the train only a couple of hours before.  “It is my journey … I don’t wish to change it,” were Alberta’s exact words.  How was Jenny supposed to react to that?  All she had been told, as a means of orienting herself to being a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s, was about the little disciplines that those tending the patients should continually practice.  It was supposed to help them keep a grip on reality.  Yet her mother was slowly opening her eyes to what was another reality. Alberta Alexander wasn’t building some great work of fiction but was, in fact, revisiting places, times, and people that had existed, only in another time.

And then she entertained a revolutionary thought: was her mother building her own guard against the inroads of dementia, a world where the awfulness of Alzheimer’s had no place and where it wasn’t welcome?  From the present world, where everything was in decline and sooner or later forgotten, was Alberta journeying to her own place of life and stability, where things wouldn’t change and previously treasured people were brought to life once more?  The irony of it was astounding – her mother was using her memory of the past to fend off the indignity of losing it in the present. 

Jenny smiled at this thought because it was exactly the type of thing her mother would do.  She would find her own way to make peace with her condition, but it didn’t necessarily have to dovetail with standard medical practices or psychological counsel – perhaps even the urgings of her daughter. Wasn’t this what she had always done, especially following the devastating and unexpected death of her husband?

It was becoming increasingly true that the effects of Alzheimer’s and its accompanying dementia were random, common, and brutally real.  But this was not news – they had known it was coming.  Yet it was perhaps that knowledge that had persuaded her mother to prepare a place in her mind and soul that could prove immune to the ravages of her disease, at least as much as possible.  It was always assumed that Alzheimer’s patients just drifted into dementia, without realizing it.  But what if, knowing what was coming, Alberta Alexander made plans to limit the damage to herself and her family as much as she could?

Her mother was slowly leaving her children.  There was no drama, no yelling in anger, no bolting out the door, but she was departing. Yet she wasn’t abandoning them, merely journeying to a place where she could protect what she had left: the memories of another time when life was simpler (despite the war) but – and this was vital – still available to her thoughts.

Yes, Alzheimer’s was a disease, an awful one.  But it was also a revelation, showing something honest, childlike, and beautiful in Alberta – something Jennifer might never have seen had the disease not struck her mother.  And might she have missed it if she, as caregiver, had only focused on the here and now and the countless efforts to keep her mother rooted in current life?

Could it be that there was a misunderstood bliss built into Alzheimer’s, a kind of abandonment that relegated impending death to the periphery, substituting memories when Alberta was most alive?  What if her mother was centering herself on a past moment in her life, where nothing need change or deteriorate, no one need depart, and where history couldn’t be altered?

She looked over at her mother’s form, lying on top of the comforter and soundly sleeping.  If she was dreaming, would she be in that same place she visited when awake?  It was a comforting thought.  Ironically, Alberta would be in a safe space even as her mind was most vulnerable to destruction. 

Jenny looked at her watch and noted that an hour had passed already.  She moved to wake Alberta, but then hesitated.  Why, she wondered?  Perhaps it was the ability to be in this quiet mode, even if only for a few moments, and to think about her mother’s disease from angles other than what standard authorities and sources demanded.  She realized that this thinking outside of the box was only possible because her mother was no ordinary woman.  She could take life on its terms and slowly bend it to her insights and will.  Alberta Alexander was sojourning down a path unknown, unique only to her, but one which offered her a certain grace in her confusion and lostness.

Conventional wisdom maintained that the young learn while the older understand.  But what happens when both overlap one another, when an older woman can travel backwards and forwards in the timeframe of her life? Her older self could still learn. In travelling back in time, in becoming young again, was it possible for her to understand more than when she was literally a child?  Could the lessons of life, learned over the process of eight decades, actually assist her as she moved back in her mind to her earlier days?

These thoughts formed a new adventure in Jenny’s own mind – a journey she was presently enthralled with. She left her mother to her slumber as she moved even further down that path of deeper understanding.

Why Do Rich Nations Have So Much Poverty?

Posted on January 16, 2019

This is a vital question.  Given capitalism’s track record of generating more wealth in the last century than all the rest of history put together, why, then, do the richest nations continue to have poor people, poor families, and an overall growth in poverty rates?

The answers to such queries are necessarily complex.  The rise of precarious employment that offers little in the way of benefits of financial security is an important development, as is the loss of bargaining power of workers in general.  With the “going global” movement among corporations in recent decades, big business has lost its connection with local communities and concentrates more on wealth creation in markets than on healthy economies and satisfied workers.  The lack of affordable housing and alarming rise in mental illness are signs that despite all that wealth, it’s not connected to our overall prosperity and happiness as nations.

To be sure, some of the wealthy nations are doing better than others, but poverty rates are still far too high and are not only entrenched in modern life but, in most cases, continue to climb.  

While financial markets have soared in recent years, the overall wealth of the middle-class has stagnated, leaving an increasing number of citizens feeling their prosperity has peaked and their future prospects have crested along with it.

All of this leaves us with two startling realities.  First, with more wealth in our nations that any time in history, it is no longer connected to the lives of average citizens.  And second, there is a pivotal distinction between modern capitalism and our economies.  We used to believe these were the same thing, but millions of citizens in affluent nations have grown suspicious that the former has largely abandoned the latter. Both governments and citizens themselves are running low on the revenue required to meet the basic needs of life. The result has been elected officials feeling increasingly ineffective and the electorate increasingly angry.

When wealth becomes separated for our collective values, like decency, fairness, openness, tolerance, equality and shared prosperity, it’s only a matter of time until civil society begins losing its cohesiveness.  Our history of linking capitalism with our democracy was successful only as we progressed and our institutions benefitted.  Now the two live in increasingly separate worlds.

And, so, we are left with our initial question: why so much poverty in a time of unprecedented wealth? 

If the rash of global studies coming out recently regarding the decline of democracy around the world mean anything, then wouldn’t one of the best ways to reduce the rate of diminishment be to eradicate poverty?  The signs, research, data and social trends all seem to be there to conclude that the secret to a healthier economy and society is to deal effectively with those abandoned by modern economies.

If the wealth generated within affluent nations is not inclusive enough to benefit all citizens, would it not stand to reason that any country wishing to reverse the decline of societal health would begin a comprehensive effort at poverty reduction?

Once we accepted that logic that poverty is a necessary evil, especially on a systemic scale, our economies began taking on water and over the decades that dead weight has threatened to undo much of our progress.  

 If money is the problem and we supposedly have lots of it, then why don’t we free up our economies for growth by investing it in those who have the greatest problems making ends meet?  That’s not what we’re doing at present and the effects of our financial ineffectiveness are now obvious everywhere.

Capitalism now views the unemployed or underemployed through the rigidity of the market and sees societal castaways as incidental to their efforts instead of essential problems to be dealt with and resourced.  In desiring smaller governments, lower corporate taxes, the ability to move wealth about the globe at will, the modern wealth creators have removed prosperity for ordinary people and two worlds at odds are now slowly emerging. 

The world has never been wealthier, so there should be no reason for people to be poor anymore in these nations.  And yet their ranks are growing.  Governments are left to deal with the problem while wealth generators have largely learned to live without government at all and feel little compunction to resource legislative bodies that are the only groups left having the power to establish regulations regarding wealth’s responsibility to societies in general.

The social costs of poverty are the greatest ones that any society can pay – not just in poverty, but the loss of hope, morale, a sense of optimism or a belief in the future. These are enormous burdens on any nation and will eventually bring them down if not addressed and resourced.

How will history view our generation, when it sees that all that wealth somehow missed the mark of social, intellectual, and ethical growth?  It will marvel that countries that classified themselves as rich tolerated being awash with poverty and its effects.  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to work and until we link our capitalism with our societal health once again, history might well pass us by.

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