His fingers remember

(a true holiday story from the wonderful surprises that come from parish ministry, which are particularly precious to me in these last weeks)

It’s a scroogy little half-coal holiday party
in the Alzheimer’s unit — the real present
is that rent will stay the same in the New Year.

But all the same –the egg sandwiches,
cheese and crackers, meat balls, chocolate cake,
look tired, resentful,
having come out of their way to sit
under the tattered decorations.
Even the staff are in grays and blues
beginning to look not a lot like Christmas.

Many of the residents, without family
and not really understanding
that this is meant to be special for them,
because no one has bothered to unwrap
the very sweetest present –
memory — the way it must be for them
opened again and again,
have gone conveniently off to bed early
leaving empty tables to be cleaned.

Then the man who was a church organist
for some thirty years is coaxed
to the upright piano,
and, though he thinks he cannot play,
when his fingers touch the keys,
black and white with carols hidden inside,
(and a miscellaneous santa’s list
of other holiday songs)
his face changes, turns rudolf bright
and all the angels,
and we shut our eyes and fly
to a concert hall and a jazz club,
several sanctuaries, a ball room, bethlehem.

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10 Responses to His fingers remember

  1. Arlene says:

    I watched both of my parents suffer through dementia. My mother played the piano as long as she could, but there came a day when the music looked like alien script. Your writing brought be joy today. Thank you!

    • Maren says:

      Both of my parents died from full term Alzheimers disease so I know this territory well — I guess it always makes me hapy to see the small miracles.

  2. I do SO love this. And have seen this miracle — always a wonder.

  3. Terry Farish says:

    I am right there in the room with this group and this music and his hands. Thank you for this poem.

  4. Nathaniel C. Emens says:

    Yes, I understand. I had a cousin who was a great Minister and he told me early on that he had
    early stages of dementia. Near the end, however, he could speak Chinese with his brother. So,
    you see,when he was young he lived with his parents who were Missionaries in China. It happens to all of us and hopefully some researchers will find a cure.

  5. Maren says:

    I hope that they do. My parents doctor has suggested that it will be my path. Hope I have the courage for it. I hope Donald has the courage for it.

  6. Elsa Marshall says:

    Thank you Maren. I too lost a parent long before he died. I missed him then and miss him now. Your poem was filled with so many memories. Ah, the blue and the greys. So bleak and making all of life feel even more lost.

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