Sunday, April 07, 2013


“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” –Leonard Cohen I once knew a man who didn’t have Internet access. At first, this didn’t bother him. He was, after all, one of the first to punch the cards that caused the action in the university mainframes. But when his 80th birthday came and went, and the younger generations talked more and more about Yahoo, and family dinner discussion centred more and more around the question of which provider gave the best deal on email, and it seemed that no product could be advertised in the newspaper or on TV without an accompanying code of w’s and .ca’s, he grew restless in his non-connected condition. The man was proud of his computer, proud that he had embraced the change from the typewriter when so many of his age had not. Each day he would spend time in front of his keyboard, writing letters for the printer to print, entering genealogical data into a database, and wondering what his next move would be. Ever a curious man, he said one night at Sunday dinner: “I’m just wondering what the difference is between email and Internet.” His family members were eager to answer his question. “Internet,” they said, “Is like a big library where people can store information that others can pick up. Email is private mail, sent only to you using the Internet. It’s like if you had a personal mailbox at the library.” The man seemed pleased with this response. The family offered to help him get connected. But two weeks later he said: “I’m thinking of getting connected, but I’m just wondering what the difference is between Internet and Email.” And so it continued, the same questions popping up, the same answers provided, the same offers made, continued for years until finally the man had a stroke and stopped using his computer. Early signs of dementia, you say. It’s a natural conclusion, given his age. Sometimes I think of the things the man was doing during this time. He was driving to meetings, chairing committees, shopping for the best grocery bargains, reading voraciously, studying French, visiting museums, growing flowers, investigating his war history, teaching us about the British Home Children, advising his children on how to raise their children. These days I think often of this man because I am meeting others like him. “I think I need some new glasses,” they say to the ophthalmologist. “You have age-related macular degeneration,” he says in response. “Glasses won’t help.” “I just think I need glasses,” they say to the technician in the ophthalmology clinic. “You have age-related macular degeneration,” says the technician. “Glasses won’t help.” They come to me. “What is your eye condition?” I ask. “I can’t remember the name,” they say. “I just think I should be having some new glasses. My glasses haven’t been changed in six years.” Early dementia, I say to myself in my best Clinical Counsellor language. Maybe depression too. Then I begin a conversation about the people they are, the things they love, the way they deal with problems, the things they have learned and taught and lived through. They sparkle, they shine, they laugh, they cry. They give me advice. They ask me questions. Doors of conversation that seemed closed are opened. Anything becomes possible! When an hour has passed and it is time for them to leave, I venture into a conversation that was impossible an hour earlier. “You know,” I say, “I work for the CNIB and I think we have some magnifiers that could help you. Would you like me to arrange for you to have a look at them?” “Oh thank you,” they say to me. Graciousness and gratitude fill the room. “I don’t think I want to be referred to the CNIB to look at magnifiers. I just think I need glasses. It’s been six years since they last changed my glasses.”

No comments: