On Forgetting Valentine’s Day

“Where’s the towel?” I walk back and forth between my room and the washroom. “It’s around your waist.” My wife yells back without taking her eyes off the TV set. I would have dismissed the absentmindedness with a shrug except that yesterday I called my pet cat Jacob. My cat’s name is Kitkat; Jacob is the name of my son. My cousin Choy Ojeda suddenly comes to mind. Choy, who is in his mid seventies, told me a couple of stories that bring to mind this issue of absentmindedness. What is absentmindedness? I remember reading a life of the great Sir Isaac Newton and how absentminded he was. It said many geniuses were absentminded, but not all absentminded people are geniuses. I belong to the latter category. Anyway, Choy had at one time read in the obituaries page that his former co-worker John had passed away. So he went to John’s wake. Upon reaching the funeral parlor Choy asked the first person he met where John’s wake was. The person pointed to the first room on the left. Choy went inside and said his prayers in front of the coffin. John’s remains showed he had lost a lot of weight. “I’m sorry,” Choy condoled with the couple in the front pew. “He lost a lot of weight. He was my co-worker. We were close friends.” As Choy looked around for familiar faces, somebody entered. “Choy! John’s wake is across the hall.” At another time he was late for a friend’s wedding. When he arrived in church, his wife Aurora took him aside: “Is that the new fashion?” Choy was wearing a brown shoe on the left foot and a black shoe on the other. I like to believe incidents like these happen to young and old alike--except that when they happen to the young, everybody finds it endearing and there the matter ends. But when an old fogey like me begins to forget, it gives me pause. With an undertone of anxiety. I think there are many causes of forgetfulness. Anesthesia after surgery can trigger one. Personal problems is another. Excessive alcohol intake, violent emotions, stress--I could go down the list. What concerns many of my fellow senior citizens in America on this issue of aging and losing our memory is the prospect of confinement in a nursing home lest we become a burden to our families. Ronald Reagan’s open letter to the American people in 1994 when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s was one of his most important legacies in increasing awareness--and compassion--for those undergoing this experience. “I only wish,” he wrote, “there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience.” And when he wrote “I will now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life,” many Americans wept for the man who many consider to be one of the greatest presidents of the United States. Then he concluded: “I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.” He might well have spoken for all of us entering our twilight years. I believe that: there will always be a bright dawn ahead. I know that, deep in my heart, there is. How do we augur that as we grow older and physically weaker? How can we soften or at least buffer ourselves, as time takes its toll? I like to think of life as a good book. A good book must not end “with a whimper.” I like books that end “with a bang.” Here’s how I discovered it: I address this by reading and putting to memory my favorite verses in the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a religious person and I don’t want to sound preachy. Not in the least. But I can assure you that those verses I loved and memorized stood me in good stead in the most difficult of times, those times I was hanging by my fingernails, so to speak. Matthew 24:35 is really true: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Because it takes a lifetime to realize that, I will leave it at that and rest my case. For there are some things that come with age which could not be understood when you are young--and by the young. So I rest my case. The rest, as Shakespeare says, is silence. It is a quarter before 6 am right now in freezing New York. I take my time and take it easy while dressing up for early Sunday service. And then we stay home after church today, I tell my wife. “Have you forgotten?” “Forgot what?” I ask. “I thought we were going out later. Never mind. You forgot.” To my horror I suddenly recall promising to take her out to dinner for a Valentine’s Day date! “Of course I haven’t forgotten. How could I when each day I’m with you is like Valentine?” She’s heard that a million times. And like always we had a great dinner out that evening.