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Monday, June 28, 2010

My encounter with Andy

“Who is he?” I asked, pointing toward a man waiting for the start of the Memory Walk.  Next to him was a woman who wanted her picture taken with him. Rob looked at me, doubting.  “You don’t know who he is?” Rob was one of coordinators of the event, and a good friend of mine.  

“No, I don’t know him,” I stated.  

“That’s Andy Williams!” 

My eyes opened widely, and my jaw dropped.  

“Andy Williams?”  

“Yes, Andy Williams!” 

I couldn’t hide my surprise. I was a big fan of Andy Williams. I loved his music. “Moon River” -- what a romantic song--  “Music to Watch The Girls Go By” --such a cheerful song, and one of my favorites ever.  I could hear his songs swirling in my head as I looked at him, out of his element and in casual shorts, preparing to walk. 

I had attended a couple of his shows, and I had always hoped to shake his hand. Unfortunately, unlike many other celebrities in Branson, Missouri, Mr. Williams 
doesn’t normally come down from the stage to greet his audience.  

There I was, standing about 20 feet from him. He looked older and more slender than on his bigger-than-life pictures on billboards and in his brochures. But I could care less about his looks. His voice and talent was all I cared about.   

“Rob, I have to have a picture with him, but I didn’t bring my camera.” I was desperate. I felt just like a teenager in a music concert for first time. I had to improvise something fast before my chance would vanish and he would walk away, as he was supposed to in the Alzheimer's walk.  

“I’ll  take the picture with my camera” Rob offered.  What a relief to hear. I accepted.  

We rushed to get close to Andy. “May I take a picture with you?” I asked. “Sure!” he answered, with a smile. He put his arm around my shoulders, and held me close to him. I could feel his energy, his strength. 

What an emotional moment.  

I thanked him, and walked away, as I didn’t want him to feel smothered. Andy was there to take part of the annual Memory Walk, promoted by the Alzheimer’s Association. I assumed he wanted to enjoy the walk rather that being chased by fans. 

A week later, Rob sent me the picture. I was thrilled. But another idea sparked in my mind. I mailed the picture to Andy’s theater with a note, asking if he would please sign it. He did, and returned it to me, signed: “To Doris. Best wishes.” 

I kept the picture as one of the most precious mementos in my life. I found a special place in my office to display it. I showed no humbleness when visitors and clients would ask: “Is that Andy Williams?” “Yes!”, I would answer with a grin in my face, and would proceed to tell them about my unexpected meeting with Andy at the 2006 Memory Walk. As anyone could guess, I have enjoyed every time someone says, “Wow, that’s neat!” or exclaims,  “That’s cool!”.   

I followed Andy’s celebrity news closely. I learned that Andy was publishing his memoirs. The excitement embraced me when I heard that he was having a book signing event. 
This time I am going be prepared, I mused. 
I had my camera with video recorder ready. Claire -my stepdaughter- was coming with me, and I instructed her on every possible detail for picture taking and video recording. We arrived early to the store where the event was to take place. I was the fifth person in line.  

My heart pounded when I heard that Andy had arrived.  

I looked at Andy with a keen eye. I noticed he had visibly aged. He had lost weight. He seemed unmotivated. His face wore a flat, unemotional expression.  

I sensed that he was not the Andy I had met four years back. 

When it was my turn, he signed my book, and quickly looked for the next person in line. Andy’s staff asked me to move on. As in a disobedient attitude, I turned back to Andy and asked him if he could write “To Doris” on the book. Andy looked at me with clear annoyance. “I’m just signing my name,” he said, dismissing me.  

I was shocked. Certainly disappointed. 

I looked at Claire and waited for her to take a picture. I nervously smiled. Just for the picture. 

And we walked away. 

As we were leaving, I felt like my pride dragged on the floor, being torn in pieces along the shiny tiles. No one would bother to clean up the remains. 

When I got home, I told my husband, family and friends about my unpleasant experience.  The next day, I removed Andy’s picture from my office. I was no longer his fan. I didn't appreciate Andy’s behavior. I cared nothing about his book.  
Writers ought to be excited about signing their books. 
I couldn’t believe that the first book signing I had attended would turn into a sour memory. 

Andy was not a writer after all, I  thought, consoling myself. 
Months later, I found myself musing about Andy and the book signing. I sat deep in thought and dispassionate consideration of the event. I started to think of Andy as a person rather than a celebrity. 

I recalled that Andy was in his 80’s. I presumed he had health challenges to face. Aging can be a burden. He might have had a lot of stress at that time. Being a celebrity and a businessman would obviously impart that worry, and pressure would take the better of him on some days. Who knows what family issues may have arisen that week, or that day. Andy may have been lonely or depressed, even if surrounded by many people.  

After all, we, the fans, are all but strangers to him. 

My heart started to feel empathetic with whatever his life challenges may have been that day, or may be by now. I have come to realize that I had the luck of seeing him face to face twice in my life. My perception of his personality can’t deny his well honed talents. I still love his music. I certainly admire and respect him.

I searched until I found the picture I had removed from my office. I dusted it off.  

The dust of my own arrogance, I compared. 

I brought the picture back to my office, and with it, the gleeful feelings when I first met Andy.  The happy, philanthropic and vibrant Andy.  The living legend. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

People's essence

“It’s interesting to sit here, and watch the people,” our curious friend, Don, commented wearing a grin on his face. “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” I replied, amused. It was a family day at a theme park. My husband, our children and I were having a blast.  Our friend Don and his wife were with us. While our children were enjoying some of the park rides, we were sitting comfortably, observing the crowd of visitors walking around. 

People of all ages, sizes, and looks were at the park that day --Energetic kids, talking loudly in high pitch voices, demanding to go on rides and shouting for foods of all sorts; overdressed elderly women, walking slowly as though they were trying to catch up with the years gone by; vibrant and good looking teenage boys and girls, some of them indulging in romantic hugging and kissing, while the others were boastfully sharing their latest romantic tales.  

A young man caught my interest. He was sitting in a customized wheelchair, being assisted by a man who appeared to be his father. My unduly inquisitive mind tried to determine whether the young man had cerebral palsy or a prior brain injury. He was drinking from a sippy cup held by his caregiver. Quite a nurturing image, I thought. 

I immersed myself in the people’s worlds, as discreetly as possible for fear of being taken as an impertinent watcher.  Clothing color, accessories style, body movements, facial gestures, mannerisms, food preferences, and the choice of jewelry a person chose to wear that day, all subtleties not normally considered in detail, were my delight. It’s certainly amazing the multitude of niceties that one’s eye can capture within just a few minutes.  

My observant eye.  

Yet my inquisitive mind switched to a more interesting quiz. How much can it be inferred about people based only from their personal objects?   

A lot. 

Isn’t that an important part of the forensic sciences after all? 

While musing on the subject, I recalled a quite particular experience. Last year, I decided to volunteer at the church resale shop, a few hours a month. I thought it would be a noble and enjoyable time since I like sewing, ironing and making clothing look as neat and presentable as possible --My mother taught me to be meticulous with my clothes: no wrinkles, no holes, no stains were to be spotted.   

While unpacking and putting up donated clothes, my curiosity didn’t have to wait to find objects of interest: the donors themselves. I started to wonder about the people who had owned and enjoyed -or perhaps hated- these clothes. 

And the game started. 

I tried to visualize the middle- aged woman who might have donated the classy black and white, two-piece dress, or the young girl that may have given away the tank top that no longer fit her. 

But the game turned odd when I held up an extra-large pair of blue jeans. They had evidently been worn multiple times. It came to my mind that the jeans might have belonged to a young man. Strangely, I had the feeling he was anxious, and somewhat sad. I didn’t know why I was getting that feeling. I disliked what I was thinking, and set the jeans aside, attempting to focus on something else.  


An unexpected impulse drew me to check the jean’s pants pockets. I did. A surprising discovery. 

There was a small white pill in one of the pockets. I examined it carefully. I was unable to identify the pill as its markings were worn off.  As a healthcare worker, I suspected it was a narcotic, most likely a pain killer.     

I discarded the pill immediately, and closed my wandering mind to reflect about people’s essence.  Their spirit, their soul.  

I concluded that whether I was right or wrong in my visualizations about the clothing donors, I had no doubt that we are leaving a print --visible or not-- in everything and everybody around us, or part of us. 

Our essence.  

Nonetheless, may we ask ourselves:  what kind of essence or spirit are we projecting today, or leaving behind for another to find? 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The language of love

I turned my head away, and discreetly wiped the tears from my eyes.  It’s very rare for me to become tearful in front of my residents or their family members. As a professional, I feel that if I can’t control my emotions, I won’t be able to give what my clients need at their time of crisis, my support, and rational advice. Crying with the clients can put a social worker at risk of overstepping her boundaries into the grieving that the clients need guidance surviving through. 
That was a tough day at the nursing home. An urgent meeting with one of my residents, Mrs D, and her daughter was about to start. It was an important meeting with the professionals of the different disciplines -interdisciplinary team- to discuss Mrs D’s care plan. There were critical decisions to make. Mrs D was unable to speak due to prior stroke. She could only communicate using a board with pictures and symbols.
After assessing her current life situation, and addressing her medical issues, the meeting coordinator asked Mrs D: “Let us know your wishes”.  Mrs D looked sad. She was confined to a wheel chair, and a feeding tube provided her only sustenance. We all knew she hated the feeding tube. 

She had been a very active and independent woman, and had always made clear to her family that she wouldn’t want any artificial means to prolong her life. Mrs D had actually signed her living will long time ago. Her end-of-life wishes were written in her Advance Directives. 
Mrs D looked at us, then looked at her daughter. Slowly, she lifted her hand, and pointed her index finger at the ceiling. It was very obvious. 
She was ready to go to heaven.
We all looked at her anxious daughter. She had been upset when she heard that her mother was not making any progress with therapy.
“She may be ready, but I’m not”, the daughter exclaimed. She drew close to her mother. “Mom, I know this is not how you want to live, but I am not ready to let you go”.  Mrs D’s daughter broke in tears. 
Mrs D looked upon her daughter with compassionate and maternal expression. She caressed her daughter’s hand as best she could with her stroke-impaired hand. Then she pointed to her board. She looked at the pictures. I wasn’t sure if she was looking for the appropriate picture, or if she was just thinking. She slowly moved her daughter’s hand she held to one of the pictures, and placed her finger on it. Only one. 
It was a heart. 
She then pointed her daughter’s hand to her own heart. It was very clear. 

I love you, was the message.
“I love you too, Mom”, Mrs D and her daughter embraced in an infinite hug I’ve never witnessed before. The room already silent, swelled with calm. Not one word was said. Everyone stood motionless. I couldn’t see the others’ faces as my eyes welled with tears. 
The meeting gently adjourned. We left the room with the certainty that we have witnessed the love of a daughter and her dying mother, my job to help bridge. This was the mother and daughter journey that they were to go through together, not guided by an advance directive or a written document.  

Only by their love, their love for each other.