Wednesday, March 16, 2011


For the first time, I connected my grandmother's condition with my own future.

My children with my grandma Hay in 1996
The Wednesday morning group I meet with at Unleavened Bread Cafe has been discussing Walter Wink's book The Powers That Be. It's a wonderful and challenging read. Not hard to grasp, but its implications call us out. Wink lays a burden on us to name, engage, and unmask--and then free--the fallen "principalities and powers" embedded in institutions, ideologies, and images (to use William Stringfellow's terms). The chapter on prayer is, to me, the most profound statement on the efficacy of prayer written in this generation. It rips prayer from singular quietude and places it--and us--on the firing line in today's sharpest conflicts and confrontations.

Before beginning the book, our group read a recent interview with Wink, who is now 76 and dealing with the impacts of Alzheimer's. The scholar whose perception into the nature of institutional evil challenged people across the faith and secular terrain is experiencing progressive levels of dementia. It is hard for me to imagine this bright man becoming forgetful of the bright principles and liberating experiences that have called out to so many of us. The link to the article is at the end of this post.

This week, anticipating the wrap-up of the book, I suddenly recalled that my grandma Hay (pictured with my four children in 1996) suffered from Alzheimer's in her latter days. I visited her in her 80s in a nursing home. She careened backward, self-propelled, through the halls in her wheelchair, never sitting still. I tried to get her to recognize me. "I'm Johnnie Hay," I'd say. "You're not Johnnie Hay," she'd retort. "I'm your son Johnnie Hay's son," I'd reply. I never got through to her. By the time she died, she recognized none of the four of her six children who now survive her.

Thinking of this as if out of the blue, for the first time I made the connection that her condition may well forebode my own latter years. I am Lola Hay's genetic heir, so, if nothing else waylays me before then, there is some significant possibility that Alzheimer's may directly impact me.

There's nothing I could do to prevent this, should it occur, though some therapies are showing significant promise to delay its onset and reduce its development. If and when this happens to me, I may be compelled to simply go along with it. Knowing myself, though, like Dylan Thomas suggests, I will likely "rage, rage against the dying of the light!"

I surmise that this remembrance and personalized past-future connective flash was somehow nudging me to to grapple with my mortality. Nothing morbid, nothing to obsess about. Just, there it is: I'm not immune to fallen life's tough stuff. I'm no exception.

And neither are you. We none of us are.

Until then, until whatever is to become of us becomes of us, let us live "life to the full," as Jesus of Nazareth commended his followers. Let us seize these moments and days to embody the principles and practices of the fulfilled future we anticipate--to recognize, welcome, embrace and live it.

And let us never yield a moment to death's lies and delusions. Though Alzheimer's may affect my mind and some other condition take my fallen life, these are not the final words. Death shall be destroyed. A deeper magic is at work (C.S. Lewis).
Read the Sojourners interview with Walter Wink here.

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