According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, in 2018, 5.7 million Americans have lived with Alzheimer’s. * My mom, Jennie was one of the people who suffered with Alzheimer’s for 19 years. According to my calculations, I was 16-years-old when she started to show symptoms of memory loss. As a teenager, I would get so impatient with her asking me the same question over and over. At this time, mid-seventies, little was known about this disease and the computer information age had yet to arrive so we had no idea what was causing her forgetfulness. As you see by the stats, this tragic disease effects families every day as they helplessly watch their loved one’s mind deteriorate. They feel frustrated and sad that there is no way to stop the hopeless death spiral of a mind that was once active and whole.
As the years passed by, my mom’s behavior deteriorated in stages. One of the stages that was both entertaining and sad was her relationship with mirrors. Let me explain. When my mom looked in a mirror she did not recognize that it was her face in mirror. The image she saw was someone else or “another” woman. There were three women that mom recognized on a consistent basis. One woman was an ugly old lady who made her scowl and speak quite critically of her appearance. At this stage Jennie had no filter and would say most anything to anyone, which was at time s embarrassing but that is how the disease works. Another image in the mirror made her laugh and the more the lady in the mirror laughed, the more she giggled. The comic relationship would go on for several minutes and it made my heart smile to see and hear the laughter of her trapped spirit. The last personality she saw in the mirror was painful for me to watch. When she looked at the woman, my mom identified her as someone who could help her escape from “this place.” In a whispering voice she would ask for help because “we” wouldn’t let her out. I wonder if somehow she knew that her mind was holding her captive and there was no escape for her. Likely she had no idea what she was doing but as her daughter watching her mom’s personality and mind deteriorate, it certainly gave me pause a time or two.
So why am I writing about this particular time of my mom’s disease? This week, I was reminded of it when reading James 1: 22-25, which says: “Do what God’s teaching says; when you only listen and do nothing, you are fooling yourselves. Those who hear God’s teaching and do nothing are like people who look at themselves in a mirror. They see their faces and then go away and quickly forget what they looked like. But the truly happy people are those who carefully study God’s perfect law that makes people free, and they continue to study it. They do not forget what they heard, but they obey what God’s teaching says. Those who do this will be made happy.” How often do we earnestly pray for God’s help to be better people or kinder, more considerate or more thoughtful of the needs of other people? Yet too often those prayers remain only a prayer, which is never put into action. In other words, it is like the text says, we look in the mirror of prayer and as soon as we look away we forget those prayer. Just like my mom who looked in the mirror and did not recognize who she saw, we also do not recognize the responsibility to take God’s message of love and grace into the world. The person in the mirror is an ambassador of God and we are called to be the hands and feet and… face of God in the world so that people will recognize God’s face that shines from within us.