I’m visiting my son Kai in Seattle, and for the past three days I’ve been watching him referee soccer games. From the time Kai was six and on through high school, I watched almost every one of the hundreds of soccer games he played, but I’ve never seen him ref. It’s been a real treat!
I’ve always been interested in how a referee handles the game, especially the fouls about which there’s some disagreement from a player or coach. So I’ve watched with interest and been impressed with my son. Never having played soccer, however, I don’t notice the fine points of the game very well; I don’t see as, for instance, Kai does. I often can’t tell whether there’s been a foul or not. This has always been true for me, even when I watched Kai’s games twenty-five years ago.
But over the weekend, I’ve been startled by my inability to remember what just happened on the field. Even when I do sometimes recognize the foul that’s just happened, within seconds I can remember almost nothing of the specifics. If a player were to ask how he fouled the opposing player, I would have no idea. I’d remember that a foul happened but not how it happened or why I thought it was a foul. The immediate memory is just gone. It’s spooky.
Kai and I went out for pizza last night and talked quite a bit about my Alzheimer’s. He said that if he had Alzheimer’s he would have lots of regrets about not being able to do all the things that he’d planned to do with the rest of his life. He wondered whether the cause of my lack of regret or resentment results is just that, at sixty-eight, I’m twice as old as he is, or whether there was some special reason I seem so at peace.
So I tried to tell him. I’ve written about some of this several times before, for instance in my sermon a couple of weeks ago and in posts about being able to live in the present or being more open emotionally. But perhaps the most important factor is that I don’t have any significant regrets about how I’ve lived my life. I’ve been privileged to be able to do pretty much what I’ve wanted to do.
Unlike most people, Marja and I never really had to worry about money. When we were younger, we lived frugally, not out of necessity but because it seemed a better, more wholesome life. We’ve had very little need for what passes for luxury in our culture. That financial freedom and security allowed us to follow our true vocations and take time to do the other important things, too. Physicians ordinarily have high salaries, so I could work wherever I wanted to (in my case with the poor), take a low salary for a physician and still make enough. (Far more constraining for me has been not knowing what I wanted to do.) But the end result is that I have no bucket list.
So when I discovered I had Alzheimer’s, I could look back at my life without regret that I didn’t choose to do this or dare to do that. Marja and I have had a good life. And far from preventing me from doing things, so far this disease and its process have given me a richer life. I now have a well-defined call and a fulfilling vocation (writing and speaking about this illness). Sure, I’m younger than I hoped I would be when I contracted my last disease. Certainly I would like to live longer, see my grandchildren grow up. But we all have to die, and I’ve been given much more than most people.
And now I’ve been given this adventure!
This has been a good weekend with Kai. Our future together is now limited and both of us want to use it well. There’s been no pressure to have “meaningful conversations,” but we’ve both wanted to be vulnerable and open ourselves up to the other in ways never possible before. I feel very grateful.