I suppose it was bound to happen. It starts out so innocently; a movement that makes you yelp a bit and rub a part of your body that you didn’t really worry about before, a waistband that doesn’t seem to settle at the waist, a desire to put the feet up and watch something totally mindless on television when every one else is ready to party. The next thing you know you’re actually paying attention to articles about retirement planning and insurance. This wasn’t supposed to happen to us. We were born to be wild, forever young. We were going to either live forever or go out in a blaze of glory.
In the lyrics of his song Beautiful Boy John Lennon wrote, “Before you cross the street, take my hand. Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans,” and that’s pretty much sums it up. We were part of the revolution. We wanted peace, justice and equality. But one by one we all sort of wandered off and began to settle into a familiar pattern, the lifestyles of our parents and grandparents. We went from concerts to swim meets, protests to potty training, seekers to soccer. Soon the generation that took drugs to expand their minds began to take them to stop their minds from wandering.
Last night I visited with a dear friend from back in the day. He was very much a part of the revolution – a talented artist, a dreamer, a writer. His art reflected a self-deprecating sense of humor and ran the gambit from political cartooning to portraits to landscapes. His colors were vivid and bright and the progression of his works through the years evidenced his life’s journey, the one that took him around the circle from revolution to the Catholic Church.
I lost track of him for many years until he came to teach art at the same Catholic school where I was teaching music. He quickly became a beloved teacher who possessed a keen eye for finding the kids who needed him the most. He would change their lives without them even knowing he was doing it, by getting them involved in an art club or letting them clean the brushes in the mornings when there was danger of them being bullied in the halls. His classroom reflected the artistic messiness of his talented mind, yet the kids felt the absolute freedom to express themselves without any fear of criticism or reproach. His patience and gentleness with even the most hardened souls earned the admiration of the entire faculty and parents. He spent his summers teaching art to underprivileged children in the city and his evenings teaching art to inmates in the state penitentiary.
Now retired, he looked forward to spending his days in his basement studio painting whatever struck his fancy. He booked shows and began to market himself in a cartoon series about a retired teacher. Yet, something was going wrong. He was having trouble finishing projects so he began painting to music, not painting the music, but he found that having music on helped keep him focused. He started to worry when he found that he was having problems remembering how to do the basic forms of drawing that he taught for years, so he painted abstracts. Finally his wife convinced him to go to the doctors. With a catch in his voice he told me the diagnosis, Moderate Cognitive Decline on the Global Deterioration Scale. It took me a minute to realize what that meant – early onset dementia.
I’m still struggling with this. I guess there are worse things that can happen to a person, but at the moment I can’t think of any.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
and stops my mind from wandering, Where it will go.
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
and kept my mind from wandering, Where it will go.
And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, I’m right.
Where I belong I’m right, Where I belong.
See the people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don’t get in my door.
I’m painting the room in a colourful way and when my mind is wandering,
There I will go.
And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right, where I belong.
Silly people run around they worry me
And never ask me why they don’t get past my door.
I’m taking the time for a number of things
That weren’t important yesterday, and I still go.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering,
Where it will go.
-John Lennon & Paul McCartney