When we are born, we need to be loved and nurtured. We instinctively trust those who care for us, feed us, and keep us safe. If we are lucky, we have parents who do just that, and it is done out of unconditional love. They love us for us. Nothing more, nothing less. We do not come out of the womb caring what color someone’s skin is. We are not worried about what brand of jeans our parents wear or what type of car they drive. We learn what love is through our experience of being loved.
As we grow we are taught about sacrifice. We are taught about compassion. There are lessons on patience and kindness. These lessons continue throughout our childhood. But when are we taught to dislike something that is different or someone who is not like us? When are we told that what we do not experience or understand is something that is bad and wrong?
For some there is an easy answer. They may have had personal experiences that they remember and that pinpoint the time when they understood that certain people cannot be trusted. Perhaps a family member or a friend taught them that some people are not as good as others. But sometimes it is not so straightforward. Maybe it was the simple act of your parents locking the car when driving through a certain neighborhood that somehow registered in your brain and made you think that the people who lived there were dangerous and were to be feared.
While I was in the Alzheimer’s unit visiting my mother, I looked around at the diversity of people who live there. All of them were well cared for, no matter what their state or what stage of disease they were in. The women’s skin, all of them make-up free, was a pallete of different colors and shades. Their skin showed wrinkles and spots, but each of the women was beautiful just as she was.
The people were in all types of clothes, no brand names anywhere. Men wore their best pajama bottoms paired with their best polo shirts . People were sleeping, mumbling, yelling, singing, and rocking baby dolls. The nurses were busy helping people to the bathroom, getting them ready for lunch, and making sure they weren’t getting out of their wheelchairs. Some may see this as cacophony. That day I saw it as a symphony.
I was hit with the notion that again, in this stage of their lives, what they need is the same type of love that we needed as newborns, as infants. They needed help getting dressed, in using the bathroom, and bathing. They needed someone to help keep them safe. They needed help eating. They also needed compassion, tenderness, and connection. They were almost back to square one. Yet, as I sat there looking around, I didn’t see shortfalls in care and compassion, what I saw was love. The nurses, staff, and family members were giving exactly what was wanted and needed.
As the effects of Alzheimer’s disease become more severe, the victims tend to lose their filters. This means that sometimes a person will say or do things that don’t seem to go along with the personality of the person you once knew. They may curse although they rarely did before. They may push or yell when they don’t get what they want. But as these filters disappear, so do the prejudices, judgments, falsities, and hatred that we have learned throughout our lives.
None of these people care about the pigment of another’s skin. They do not care if you are carrying a Louis Vuitton purse or are wearing lululemon yoga pants. They do not care if you are gay or straight. Tall, short, fat or skinny means nothing. Do you go to church? They don’t know. They don’t care. Their determination of whether you are a good person comes down to a few simple facts. It comes down to how you treat them when you are with them, how they experience you as a human being. Do you greet them? Do you smile and take the time to talk with them and maybe give them a pat on the arm or a hug. Really, it comes down to whether you are acting out of love, plain and simple.
All the b.s. that we learn and seem to find important in our everyday lives means nothing to them. Things, material things, are obsolete. Someone who treats them with respect and values them as human beings is who matters. People of all colors, shapes and sizes are friends. They sit together and talk. They dance and sing together. They don’t see the colors or the fat or the age marks or care about the nonsensical things you say. In the locked down Alzheimer’s ward there is little judgment. Instead the people there see and experience love. Because everyone deserves to love and be loved. Everyone.