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Glen Pearson

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.



Life Among the Stones – Heading North (Chapter 9)

Posted on January 15, 2019

The steady rhythm of the rails was both soothing and consoling for Alberta.  She gazed out the train window as it passed through the Lake District, wending its way ever northward, through England’s green rolling hills and valleys, from Hertfordshire to Yorkshire and on to Northumberland.  She and Jennifer had arrived at London’s Kings Cross station at mid-morning for the five-hour journey into the heart of Scotland.

The idea had been Robin’s, and it had been brilliant.  The seasons had shifted and summer was making its resplendent presence known.  The familiar rains were at a minimum only at this time of year, and the sunshine filled every nook and cranny of the British Isles.

In the weeks following their lunch at La Porchetta, there were increasing moments of forgetfulness for Alberta.  Most alarming of these was the time when she left the kitchen stove gas on, after failing to light it.  It was only the pungent smell of the fuel that alerted her to the danger.  She quickly shut it off, opened all the doors and windows – a delight at this time of year – and permitted the house to clear out before Jenny and Robin had returned with groceries.  True to her promise of openness, she told her children what had transpired, and the agreement was reached that, from that point forward, someone would stay with their mother every moment.  The three of them had helped to pull twin beds into the small glass atrium at the rear of the house. One of the kids would spend the night there, with their mother, under the stars.  That, too, had been Robin’s inspired idea.

They talked frequently, most often in episodic narratives that came and went with Alberta’s ability to follow the conversation.  In one of those exchanges, Alberta talked about how she would miss the travels she used to enjoy, first with Sandy, and then as part of her work at Society.  It was then that Robin suggested she take one final journey before the challenges proved too daunting.  Ideas were thrown into the conversation stream – America, Paris, Rome, and, above all, Santorini – but they all understood that such expeditions would likely prove too much for her frail form and state of mind.

“How about someplace by train, and not too far away?” Robin had offered.

It was then that Alberta said how she always wanted to return to Edinburgh, Scotland because that was where she had been sent, along with other children, when the threat of German invasion appeared inevitable at the war’s beginning.

“That’s perfect,” Jenny exuded.  “We can take the Caledonian overnighter and arrive in the morning fresh and eager to explore.”  But Alberta had intervened, observing that since this might prove to be her last vacation, she wanted to see it all – every hill, river, lake, farm, valley, and historic landmark along the route. 

“It will be just like travelling through a Jane Austen novel,” she noted.  “However, I’d like to go First Class,” she added with a smile.

In the end, it was decided that Jenny would accompany her mother, while Robin saw to the house renovations that would prove useful in Alberta’s declining condition – an elevated toilet, handrails at strategic points, a bed that could incline, a ramp out into the garden, and light switches that could be accessible from her bed.

And now, here they were – Jane Austen seemed alive and well.  The Norman architecture in and around Durham was eye-catching, with the great cathedral’s spire stretching up into the sunny heavens.  

Then, as they rode into Scotland, the rolling hills made way for panoramic vistas displaying rugged Scottish coastlines and the occasional castle ruin on the shore.

Jenny frequently heard her mother sighing as they faced one another in their plush seats.  “You okay, Mom.”

Alberta took a moment to respond.  “I stayed with my uncle and aunt not too far from here, on the coastline.  The Royal Air Force ran training exercises and practice missions over the region and all of the children would jump up and down as the noisy four-engine Lancaster bombers lumbered overhead or a Hurricane fighter zipped in and out through the hills.  Best of all was when the Spitfires were commissioned into service shortly after the war began.  We marvelled at their beauty, and every boy, and the occasional girl like me, wanted more than anything to be one of those pilots.  The “Precious Few” they truly were.  Those precious boys.”

Her mother went on like this for some time, and Jennifer realized that the older woman was losing touch with the present and drifting into the past.  She had been warned about this by Elizabeth Fairborough.  “Keep her focused on the task before her; don’t let her mind go idle.  Ask her what the time is or where you are at that moment.  Help her to remember birthdays or names – anything that makes her brain work to stay rooted to reality.”

“Mom, what years did you live there, in Edinburgh?” she asked, following on the physician’s advice.

Alberta turned from the window and looked oddly at her.  “Well, I’m not sure.  It was for the years 1939 and 1940, I think.”

“Good.  Good.  And what were the names of your aunt and uncle?  Do you recall?”

Her mother now seemed somewhat downcast.  “William and Audrey Wiseman,” she answered, almost too quickly.  Clearly, she was perturbed.

“Were you in school?”

Now her mother turned fully to face her.  “I know what you’re doing, you know?  But I want to journey back there – to Edinburgh, my relatives, the beach, the marvellous castle. I was happy there.  It was a childhood interrupted, to be sure, but we hardly heard of the war or the killing.  We pretended to build castles in the sand, even on the cold days.  We went to the Firth of Forth and watched the great train bridge and waited for the steam engines to trundle over it.  I missed my parents, but they were always writing me. I would be the first to meet the postman.”

It was quiet for a moment. Jennifer felt remorse for her actions but, at the same time, wanted her mother to stay in the moment.

“I’m sorry, mother. You remember what Elizabeth said, don’t you?”

“I remember very well, and my friend was wrong.”

The words were out, and both women were startled by their candour.  For the briefest of moments, Jenny thought her mother angry.  Seeking to deflect it, Jenny said, “The research has said that we won’t be able to alter the outcome of the disease, but we could build supports around you that could change the journey.”

Silence was followed by more silence.

“Mom.”

“It is my journey, honey, not science’s.  I don’t wish to change it.  I want only to be respectful in my decline and to not purposefully hurt anyone, especially you or Robin.  But there is magic and wonder just outside of our reality.  I can feel it and my mind, with all its troubles, embraces it.  There is imagination, enchantment, spellbinding things in my youth that might not even have been real, but they were real to me at the time.  And they were peaceful, safe, loving, and rapturous.  I shan’t be hurt by going there, especially when the reality here is defined by decline and my end.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jen in supplication.  “I guess Robin and I are just trying to follow advice and keep you from going into your childhood.”

Alberta smiled kindly. “Which is where you’re taking me right now.”

Jenny saw the irony immediately.  When they had informed Elizabeth Fairborough of the proposed trip, she had brought up no objection, so long as one of the kids was with her.  Now she realized their oversight, and it was too late. She inwardly chastised herself.

Each remained lost in her thoughts as the distance to Edinburgh shortened.  Alberta’s mind journeyed back to where it had been prior to her daughter’s intrusions.  She had been short with Jennifer, but hadn’t noticed.  Her daughter, on the other hand, still felt the sting of her mother’s responses.

The tea service began, offering teas of every kind, along with slim sandwiches, scones, and strawberry tarts.  Jennifer poured her mother’s tea but received no response.  She was learning to accept that these kinds of distances frequently had more to do with Alberta’s retreat into somewhere in her mind than with any kind of anger towards her daughter.  The older woman had never been one to rise to anger quickly and, the more Jenny thought about it, the more she understood that the ensuing silence didn’t really mean anything.

Except that wasn’t fully true.  She had discovered in these last few moments that her mother had thought through her Alzheimer’s situation more than anyone had realized.  She understood that her mind was going and that, for anyone in her condition, the mind most naturally moved back through time, to simpler days, simpler pleasures.  The literature had been clear on all of this, but rather than resisting it as a means of retaining as much of the present as she could, Alberta Alexander felt it was a natural occurrence and wished to take the journey.  This was difficult for Jennifer to accept, but the realization that it wasn’t happening by chance, but through a beautiful sense of purpose, made the situation somewhat more bearable.  She is a remarkable woman, my mother,Jennifer thought to herself, surveying her mother, whose thoughts escaped out through the window pane and into another era.

Just then she heard the train whistle blare as the dark stone buildings of Edinburgh rolled into view. A voice over the hidden speakers said that Waverly Station was the next stop.  The two women began sorting their belongings and tidying up.  Alberta looked up and smiled as beautifully as Jennifer had ever seen, and her daughter realized that the tensions of the last few miles had completely lifted from Alberta’s consciousness.  In their place was a youthful enthusiasm for a new adventure.

Is Democracy Done in America? Hardly.

Posted on January 14, 2019

Okay, so democracy is in real trouble in the United States, right?  It must be, since Washington has become radically divided and hyper-partisanship makes compromise impossible. The swamp not only remains, but is overflowing. And whether or not President Trump is found guilty in even just one of the numerous investigations swirling around him, and about him, the country can never be the same again surely?

 Pew polls are a good place to start in thinking about this, simply because the organization is non-partisan and also because they’re highly reputed and have been doing it for a long time.

  Let’s start with perceptions of the press?  In the “fake news” world south of the border, journalism is hugely denounced, correct?  Nope. Across all ages, Pew research discovered that an average of 65% still believe the media should carry out its responsibility for watching, criticizing and correcting the political establishment. An average of 85% of Americans believe that non-violent protest is a right. And 75% believe the rights of people to express even unpopular views should be protected.  A full 83% believe in the checks and balances dividing power in America between the Executive, Congress and the courts.  And despite all the election hassles in recent years, 91% of Pew poll respondents believe that elections are still open and fair.

While it’s true that the great bargain struck by citizens and their governments since World War Two – governments elected by the people delivering a growing economy and rising living standards, provide security, and protect the health and welfare of their people – has been under significant strain in the last three decades, it doesn’t mean that people have given up on their heritage.

America faces challenges unlike any other country, thanks in part to its history of economic strength and military might.  And they’ve been through a lot in recent years.  The despondency following the Watergate scandal eroded trust. Assassinations, wars, racism, violence, 9/11, and a growing drug culture have pulled at the seams of American cohesiveness.  And yet it continues to endure, not only despite these problems but, in many cases, because of them.  Citizens still believe their nation is a work in progress and difficulties on the path before them are meant to be surmounted.

The advent of Donald Trump has prompted attacks on the institutions of democracy unlike anything in the modern era.  And a blinded Republican Party, along with the elitist approach of the Democrats in the last two decades, have only resulted in the greater worry that America is about to fall over a cliff.

Despite all this, the country’s resilience remains remarkable – as shown in the Pew polling.  When Pew asked its thousands of respondents from across the political range – Republicans, Democratic, Independent – whether a president should be granted more powers, a vast majority from all persuasions (77%) said “no” – a number that has not dipped in the last two years.

These values still hold despite the obvious problems – the lingering effect of stagnant wages, unemployment, decline in household incomes, wars without end and without victory, a crippling political partisanship.  It all leaves deeper levels of distrust among citizens overall.  The core of democracy is weakening in the United States, but of late there are signs of democratic institutions fighting back for the constitutional obligations.  

The growing desire to restore the middle-class of America represents the heart and soul of the country’s penchant for political reform.  It is still the essence of the American Dream.   And despite its recent struggles, immigrants by the hundreds of thousands still seek to move to America legally, and sometimes illegally, each year.  The problem of immigration is the great outlier for the political system at the moment, and unless both parties discover ways to cooperate for effective immigration reform, the country’s greatest divisions will only deepen.

As we witness America’s struggles, durability, and desire for reform, it is helpful to remember that success isn’t guaranteed.  History is replete with accounts of mighty empires slipping inevitably into decline and the United States is showing such tendencies.  Liberal democracy is not a guarantee in America, although for over a century it seemed inevitable.  Its core strengths are weakened and its people despondent and facing growing despair. Nevertheless, its democratic prowess remains robust and its ability to reverse its present course remains possible because of the essential values of its citizens.

Winston Churchill was fond of saying that Britain didn’t come such a long way because it was made of sugar candy.  Neither did the United States.  The key is now to put aside its distractions and get on with the task of building equitable democracy.  The essential values remain; now the great nation to the south must stake its claim on them.  And that might just be beginning to happen.

Elderly asian woman reading an old letter

Life Among the Stones – Stages of Decline (Chapter 8)

Posted on January 13, 2019

It was a premonition that proved true.  She came to learn this as she sat in Elizabeth Fairborough’s office a week following the Trout Point incident.  Alberta had undergone a series of tests at her physician’s request, and now looked at her friend as she delivered the results.

“For a woman of 81, you are in remarkably good health, Bertie, but the brain is another matter. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. Over a period of many years, symptoms will slowly become more severe, and a person’s overall condition will worsen. Each person experiences a different progression of symptoms over a different stretch of time, though many will experience slow-moving Alzheimer’s that takes years to progress. For some, it may seem that symptoms are progressing rapidly, and that’s what’s happening in your case.”

She paused, knowing this wouldn’t be easy.  “It doesn’t happen very often but, occasionally, the disease can jump light years ahead of the normal deterioration rate.  In your case, it is aggravated by some thyroid difficulty.  I think we can control that with medication, but, still, it is happening faster than I expected.”

Alberta listened, somewhat detached.  “I know … I’ve sensed it,” she said, confirming her friend’s diagnosis.  It’s not what I expected, but I need to be prepared, for the sake of the kids.”

Elizabeth rose and came around to sit in the chair beside her old friend.  “This is where it will start to turn difficult, Bertie.  The episode in the valley that you told me about was unusual in that it seemed to last for hours.  That’s unusual for someone as early into the process as you have been.  It means something else is going on.  The MRI results have helped a bit, but we have no way of knowing if we can slow down the deterioration.”

Alberta rose and walked to the window.  “This is what I hoped for, you know – a merciful demise.  I’ve done enough studying in the last few weeks to see how much it can take out of the caregivers, and I’ve dreaded that happening to Robin and Jennifer.”

“I understand that,” Elizabeth responded, sympathy clearly in her tone.  “The problem is that the decline can be so sudden that they may feel incapable of keeping up, of providing the care you require.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Nothing – at least not yet. If things keep going at this pace, it’s likely you will end up in some facility that can provide the care you require, and at the level you require.  It would be the best for both of them.”

“Oh, Lizzie, I don’t want to leave our home – the place Sandy and I designed with such love.”  To Elizabeth’s surprise, the tears flowed rapidly. This wasn’t like her friend, who was usually so staid and polished.  Clearly, she was aware of the consequences.

“Okay, okay – I understand. Let me see what I can do about homecare. It’s a lot more common than it used to be, mostly to save hospital costs.  The important thing now is that I need to see you every week, Bertie.  I’ll come to you and guide you through it, but be prepared for more lengthy bouts of forgetfulness as the days wear on.  There are lots of little disciplines for you to undertake to keep it from declining quicker.  I will have to change your medications somewhat…

“And so it begins,” Alberta whispered, while facing out the window.

“Bertie, it’s probably been ‘beginning’ for years, we just didn’t know it.”

Alberta stood, saying, “I understand.  It’s not as though I haven’t spent numerous hours looking back over the years to spot those little beginnings.   But I just mean that I’m now facing my point of embarkation.  From this point on, things become serious, and I have to handle this with great care, Lizzie – youhave to help me with that.  This is going to be so difficult for Robin and Jen and I don’t want to add to their suffering.  I need to be strong and as collected as I can be.  I’ll count on your honesty to help me with that.”

“That’s my Bertie – ever strong,” Fairborough said, with a forced smile.

“For them, Lizzie, for them.”

“I don’t fully accept that,” the physician said, causing her patient to look up sharply.

“Look, if you want me to be honest, let’s start right now.  For the entire time I’ve known you, you’ve been the most collected woman I can remember.  Your capacity to focus is legendary and I’ve rarely seen your emotions tip over the edge. You are from strong stock and it shows in your bearing – in your being.  I suspect that if anything terrifies you, it is the possibility of having others witness you losing that self-dignity in real time and with difficult consequences.”

Alberta drew in her breath and lifted her chin.  “Really, how could it be anything else?  It’s who I am Lizzie and how I was brought up.  I was a young girl during the Blitz and it was in everyone around me – an entire population just getting on with things.  Getting back to work, singing songs in the air raid shelters, protecting the children, praising Winston Churchill, and always, always, putting the tea on.”

They both smiled at this, understanding that all this was part of English lore – a defining moment in the history and reputation of the nation.

“I can give you a lift home, if you can wait for half an hour,” Fairborugh suggested.

“No, but thank you, Lizzie. The kids are meeting me down the street at La Porchetta for lunch.  They’ll want me to fill them in on what we discussed.  It’s interesting about the newer generation, isn’t it?  They want to talk through everything, completely and unequivocally.  It’s all so different to the way we are, but they deserve to know what’s going on, since the caregiving will now largely be up to them.”

“I’ll be in touch about the live-in caregiver, but, until then, plan on seeing me every week.”

Their mother found Jen and Robin already tucked away in a corner booth, their car parked almost directly in front of the windows.

“Well, you two are here early,” she noted, seating herself at the edge of the booth.

“We thought we’d beat the crowd and grab a more private spot,” Robin noted.  “Why don’t we order and then you can let us know what Elizabeth had to say?”

Once they had decided on their meals, Alberta told them, in full, what her physician’s advice had been, and that her decline would become more precipitous in the coming months. “Elizabeth says there remains some professional disagreement on the stages of the disease, though she tends towards the opinion that there are seven altogether.”

“And they are?”

Their mother was suddenly flummoxed and did her best to mask it.  When she came up blank, Jen asked, “Did she give you some material that could help us, Mom?  I’ve been keeping a file.”

“My, that sounds important,” Alberta said, in an attempt at levity.

“It is important, Mom. We need to know best how to proceed, especially if you’re unable to tell us.”

Her son’s counsel caused her to feel somewhat ashamed of herself – both for forgetting and for treating things so lightly when it would be these two that would be with her on most occasions.

To make the uncomfortable situation worse, when the waitress came with the food and asked who ordered the Bruschetta di Montagna, Alberta replied, “Oh, that must be your order, Jenny.” When her daughter reminded her that she had made the selection for herself only minutes previously, she fell into an embarrassed silence.

“Mom, it’s okay. These are good things for us to go through and to learn from.”

All three were silent for some time before Alberta said, “I’m sorry, you two, and you’re right – it was nothing significant.  She reached out and grasped both their hands, smiling.  “Thank you for being so understanding.  I love you both.”

Over coffee, the conversation became more instructive and things settled down.  With things more relaxed, Alberta recalled the various stages her daughter had asked about.

“It seems that people with the illness follow something of a similar trajectory – no impairment, very mild decline, mild decline, moderate decline, moderately severe decline, severe, and then very severe decline.  For some reason, I have progressed through the early stages quickly, and what the event at Trout Point revealed is that I’m likely entering the moderate decline phase earlier than expected.  And yet I’m having an easier time conversing than many would have in this stage, so that’s a good thing.”

Robin put his cup down and asked, “Can you tell us about this ‘moderate’ phase?”

“I think so,” she responded. “Short-term memory begins to fail – little things, like forgetting where I left my boots or what I ordered for lunch today.”  This was said in a way that produced smiles all around.  And we’ve all seen that I can’t really manage my budget, or even money, lately, which I presume is why you’ve taken that job on, Robin.”

“And what comes after this stage?” Jennifer inquired.

“The scary stuff, I think. Difficulty dressing or doing basic functions like cooking or perhaps climbing stairs.  After that, I’ll eventually need help going to the bathroom – something that will likely embarrass me more than anything.” The last few words were uttered while she looked at Jenny with what appeared to be a mild shame on her features.

“Mom, not to worry. We’ll manage.”

Robin wanted to ask about the last two stages – severe and very severe – but opted to remain silent. The time had been difficult enough for his mother.  They would cover it another day.

“I think that what matters right now is that the early stages have developed quicker than we thought and we don’t know how that will skew the rest of the timeline.”

In the back seat on the way back to Clerkenwell, Alberta looked at the familiar landmarks and then some of those she had forgotten in recent weeks.  She had to address the possibility that her demise – her death – seemed to be nearer than she was anticipating.  More than anything she must keep her wits about her as long as she could.  And stronger than that was her desire to maintain her self-respect – perhaps a difficult and overpowering task, considering that she might not even know herself.

Life Among the Stones – Through the Gate and Into … (Chapter 7)

Posted on January 11, 2019

Alberta rose just after dawn, finished off two cups of tea, and proceeded down the back path to the open country beyond.  She hadn’t taken this route as much in recent weeks because of all the preparations she had undertaken in light of her prognosis. Having Robin at home with her made all the difference.  He had been attentive, non-intrusive, and a joy to be around, with his dry sense of humour. Unlike Jennifer, he hadn’t felt the need to press his mother about her feelings or plans; it was enough for him just to be her companion.

It took her a moment to unlatch the wooden rail gate that opened up into the valley beyond those houses, like hers, that backed onto a more natural world.  Eventually, she achieved it, swung it open as far as she could manage, and then began moving into a world she had known so well over the years.  She and Sandy trekked at least twice weekly through the tall grasses, sometimes following the worn path that wound around the trees, sometimes not.  They would arrive at a small brook, likely the descendent of a great river that hollowed the valley out from the surroundings as the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago.

Alberta gracefully sat in the grass near a tree that boasted of blooms about to burst forth into the glories of summer.  Looking back down over her street, she realized that she had managed the ever-increasing episodes of Alzheimer’s as best she could.  They were small things, really – infuriating, but hardly incapacitating.  She replayed them in her mind – lost glasses, forgetting to post a letter, the inability to remember when she went to bed or where she had placed her wine glass from the night before.

Gardening remained a soothing occupation in the mornings.  For whatever reason, she religiously placed the short-handled hoe, shears, fork, and her gloves in the garden tool wagon the kids had bought for her years ago. It was such a trite thing in real terms, but it served as a staple, an anchor, of her present world that she had no wish to leave behind.  The kids had been wonderful, pretending not to notice, but the routine was helpful in locating what she was searching for.

Nevertheless, where once she felt absolutely normal, despite the findings of her disease, she now often sensed a featheriness on the periphery of her vision.  It was there now, as she looked back towards the gate – almost as if she were slightly tipsy from too much wine.  

Alberta rose and suddenly felt flummoxed.  It was a simple decision: whether to head up to the path or back to the gate.  But she found herself unable to make the choice. She sat back down and waited for the confusion to pass, which it inevitably did.  Her wits now about her, she straightened the wrinkles on her khaki slacks and moved further up the hill.

She was delighted to see a deer and her yearling, with the moist, almost button-like jet black noses pointed in her direction as they cautiously munched the tall grass while she passed by. She felt elated by the sighting – not because of its rarity, but in appreciation of the fact that, with her days limited, it had transpired on this particular morning.

Her legs feeling strong, she crested the hill and worked her way down the next valley to the brook. After a few minutes, she grew mildly alarmed that it wasn’t there – just an endless expanse of grass and skyline. Alberta looked about her, scouring for landmarks or some structure that looked familiar.  Her searching caused her to keep moving along the path, sure that the water and its familiar burbling were nearby.

Eventually, she heard the movement of water over stone and moved towards it.  She was on it before she realized how far she had come.  Her walking shoes were wet as a result.

Yet there was a problem: it was the brook, alright, but she didn’t recognize its setting.  Alberta permitted her gaze to float along the crest of the hills above her, and she had to confess that she was lost.  This was either a location she hadn’t previously visited or she had been here many times but couldn’t remember – couldn’t pull it out of her memory.

She could feel her heart beating faster and fought the impulse to fear.  Her seasoned mind was telling her that there was nothing to alarm her – no wild animals, no prowler or deep water in which she could drown. That thought assisted her in appraising her predicament more clearly.  Something in her said that this was a place she had visited before, perhaps often. But was that true?  She had no idea, but dwelling on it didn’t help.

Gradually, she moved along the bank of the stream until she happened upon a small wooden dock, no more than eight feet in length.  Attached to it was a tiny rowboat, likely built for children.  Feeling her heart beating rapidly again, she directed her lithe frame to the end of the structure and sat at its edge.  On a whim, she disposed of her shoes and ankle socks, and placed her feet in the cool stream.  It was a tonic; just what she required.  She entertained herself by kicking water with her feet out into the stream and darting them back and forth in the current.

Alberta took stock of her situation again, though it now took some effort, given her growing insecurity. She knew she couldn’t be far from home, but the real problem was that she felt she could have been here hundreds of times before, yet couldn’t recall.  Through her mind rushed thoughts of Sandy and the kids.  But why? she asked herself.  All is fine.  There is no danger for me … or them.

Instead of wrestling with it, she permitted her mind to drift and it eventually took her back through the years to those times, as a child, when she loved being near water of any kind – springs, wells, brooks, the Thames, and the ocean.  She recalled holding hands with her parents as she visited Land’s End for the first time, walking along the sand, still moist from the receding tide.  Thoughts of taking the ferry across to Calais brought a smile to her face, as did the memory of the cruise ship she and Sandy had taken, as it travelled around the deep blue, clear water of the Mediterranean.  These remembrances consoled her, calming her spirit.

Looking about her, she sensed that she would have to do something instead of lingering until the evening darkness.  But not yet,she thought.  Alberta sensed a deep joy in herself as her mind moved effortlessly in an out of situations and times.

And then a remarkable thought struck her.  The fabric was paper thin between realities, she realized.  She was intrigued to think that, maybe, the minds of those with dementia or Alzheimer’s weren’t so much lost.  Maybe they had developed the capacity to slip in and out of different places at the same time.  They were only lost to those around them.  She smiled at the profundity of this, pleased with her philosophical twist. And was she lost right now?  Really?  Even if that was so, she felt perfectly at home with her mother and father, the water of the earlier years, the sense of intimacy that provided her security in this insecure situation.

The hours passed without her noticing, since her mind was flitting off in different directions, through time and back again.  Alberta only sensed it might be longer than she realized when she felt the goosebumps on her arms and sensed the late spring chill, as the sun got itself set for its journey to the other side of the world.

“Mom … O God, Mom!”

She turned to see Jenny moving quickly towards her.

“It’s okay, sweetheart, I’m fine.”  Knowing this wouldn’t satisfy her daughter, Alberta added, “I became lost, but found it thoroughly enjoyable here.”

“This is Trout Point, Mom. We used to picnic here.”

Ah, so there it was – she had forgotten.  Perhaps somewhere in her subconscious there was a knowledge of that, and it had helped to calm her.  She looked up to see Jenny crying.

“O, honey, it’s okay. To be honest, I was enjoying myself, and I knew someone would find me sooner or later.  I knew I wasn’t that far away.”

“It’s only over the hill back there,” replied Jenny, pointing with her finger.

She helped her mother to stand and, arm in arm, they made their way back on what should have been a familiar path.  It was only then that Alberta realized this had been no minor episode; it had lasted hours, and, at no point, did any memory of Trout Point return.  While saying nothing to the woman clinging to her, she now understood that some major shift had taken place in the chaotic life of her disease.   She wondered if a large number of brain cells had suddenly died or just shut down, overpowered by the past.  

Alberta had no answer, but growing within her was the understanding that the Alzheimer’s was now moving into a faster lane and that today signaled a radical course in her decline. Though troubled, she shook it off while concentrating on assuring her daughter that she was fine.  This, she knew, was a tragic irony worthy of Shakespeare, born only 100 miles to the west.

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