Seniority

(Source: BBC News Sussex)

(Source: BBC News Sussex)

The world wizzes by

At sixty minutes an hour

As the invisible old man

Shuffles by the store window.

Faces, buried in phones,

Are oblivious to his struggles

As early winter snows

And joints no longer fresh

Imperil every footfall;

Each step an exercise

Of will and forethought.

Hands palsy of cold and age,

Eyes rheum of wind and memory,

But the soul burns wildly

Despite bodily afflictions.

Crowds thicken and jostle;

The man holds his place

To catch balance and breathe.

And historied eyes rise

To catch reflections in glass.

The eyes that watch me

Are my own of blue,

But the husk that bears them

Is that of an ancient;

Frail and mortal witness

To a life eternal.

Music and the soul

Alive Inside movie poster from the Sundance Film Festival

Alive Inside movie poster from the Sundance Film Festival

I am not a musician. I do not play an instrument, nor do I sing (not well, at least), and I do not understand how music is constructed. I do, however, like music and firmly believe that if we ever discover proof of a human soul, it will translate itself to us in the form of music.

I have, of course, no evidence to support this belief, although a recent experience at the Nashville Film Festival suggested I may be on the right track. The event was the showing of a documentary called Alive Inside: A story of memory and music.

The film, directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, follows the story of social worker Dan Cohen who has spent the last several years bringing iPods to nursing homes across the United States. Cohen has found that even with the most neurologically shut down senior (e.g., clients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia), revive when they music from their youth.

Director Michael Rossato-Bennett (l) and social worker Dan Cohen (r)

Director Michael Rossato-Bennett (l) and social worker Dan Cohen (r)

Slowly, as the story plays out, we are introduced to human husks that reside in these homes and palliative care centres. People who had once been husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, but who have been reduced to masses of barely interactive biological matter by their medical conditions.

And yet, when the headphones are placed over their ears and music pours down thin white wires into ear buds, those husks are infused with life. Like a balloon that only shows its true form upon inflation, the inert bodies and death masks take the form and substance of the human beings they once were.

Henry comes alive again as the music reaches inside

Henry comes alive again as the music reaches inside

Eyes glow with life, spines regain flexibility, paralysis becomes movement, and disengaged spirits connect with the world. If only for a few hours, the catatonic fog lifts and a human is reborn.

The science—discussed in part with Dr. Oliver Sacks—suggests that the familiar, beloved music of the individual’s past activates that part of his or her brain as yet left untouched by disease, effectively relinking the connections between their worlds within and without. That may be true, scientifically.

What was certain to me was that the music either reignited the spark that makes us human or provided the fuel that converted a seriously diminished spark into a sputtering flame. The results were miraculous.

Even in cases where disease hadn’t erased the person’s individuality but dampened it with manic-depression or multiple sclerosis, the music seemed to quieten the internal maelstrom enough for the person to re-emerge. The woman immobile without her walker, shoved it aside to dance to Spanish guitar.

The story of Alive Inside had a personal connection for me as I immediately thought back to my now-deceased grandmother Dorothy who fortunately had maintained her mental faculties except at the very end. Her apartment, as I remember it, was constantly filled with music, her CD player rarely turned off. New CDs coming into her home every Christmas, every birthday. Elvis, Michael Buble, The Mills Brothers, Motown and light opera. She was at her most contented when listening to music.

The caregiver...

The caregiver…

...becomes the care-receiver.

…becomes the care-receiver.

But the world was completely different when she was in the hospital—a life of cardiac issues catching up with her eventually. In the anemic, lifeless wards where wonderful warriors did their best to stave off the inevitable, I could see Dorothy’s spirit wane with each passing day. Even if I didn’t always think she was physically ready, my happiest days were knowing she was going home.

When something upsets the norm, ceases to function correctly or goes completely dormant, it is easy to set it aside and forget about it. When that something is a loved one, setting them aside is never easy but it is often easier than coping with the problem. And once set aside, forgetting becomes that much easier.

Seeing that a person is still inside that morbid husk of a human, however, changes everything. Knowing that we have committed a living, breathing, connectable loved one to solitary exile becomes less palatable, less conscionable.

Music isn’t the solution. It doesn’t reverse what has happened to the person biomedically. Within minutes or hours of the music ceasing, the individual typically deflates to his or her former shell.

But we who have witnessed the transformation, we have been permanently changed because we can never see that human shell the same way ever again.

We know that shell is not lifeless, and once we know that, there is no going back.

If you get the opportunity to see Alive Inside, please do. And be sure to bring plenty of facial tissues.

Longer Penis (not spam)

Size

Do you ever find yourself, for whatever reason, wishing you had a longer penis?

I found myself thinking this the other day while standing at a urinal in a sports bar.

You see, as I’ve gotten older, I have found myself becoming increasingly hard-of-seeing. Although I have accepted reading glasses as an everyday thing in my life, I still find that I have to play trombone somewhat when trying to read a book or the newspaper, particularly in poorly lit areas.

So, what does this have to do with a longer penis, you may ask.

For the uninitiated, over the urinals in many if not most sports bars in Canada, the bar posts a section of the newspaper (most often the sports section), which gives gentlemen something to look at while in the bathroom. I’d like to tell you it is for the betterment of our understanding of the human condition, but am more apt to say it is to keep us from inadvertently gawking at our neighbours.

Well, of late, I have found it increasingly difficult to read this newspaper because I am standing too close to the wall. Even with my reading glasses on, I cannot make out the print of the story. And let’s face it, if you have to put your reading glasses on to pee, you are either blind as a bat or have a really short penis.

With a longer penis, I believe, I would have the opportunity to stand further back from the urinal and potentially bring the newspaper into focus. Standing further back with a shorter penis just leads to a mess no one wants and would keep me from accurately hitting the little soccer ball (some of you know what I’m talking about).

As it is, my only alternative is to try to read the paper over the next urinal, which has its own risks.

If I am alone in the bathroom, no problem. But the minute another fellow stands at the next urinal…

Well, let’s just say no one likes to have a stranger read over your shoulder, so you can imagine how you’d feel having a stranger read over your penis.

So, yes, sometimes I wish I had a longer penis.

Oh, and unless you have a third hand, don’t try turning the page over…trust me, it’s better for everyone if you just read the rest of the story later.

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