Testament to the Human Spirit


Yesterday a friend who read my out-of-print Alzheimer’s book stopped me to say how much it meant to her. She said it took her past the label into the humanness of those suffering with the disease. Bless her heart, she didn’t know her words came just when my revision project, The Third Floor, Tales from Our Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit, was slumping into author despair.

I thanked her and returned to work with renewed faith in the project’s value. Whether newly-diagnosed individual, caregiver or staff, family member or friend, all those who have been touched by experience with dementia, need every encouragement available in order to keep their own hearts open. Hope, that feathery thing, is so fragile. My friend spoke directly to my deepest hope, that The Third Floor may be a testament to the human spirit of individuals facing any form of dementia.

Suspended Anticipation

photoBeatitudes, an Arizona retirement campus’s advanced-dementia unit, has become a model of innovations in caring for people who “have trouble thinking,” terminology used by the director of education and research at the Beatitudes campus. A recent article by Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker describes Beatitudes this way: “Often the advanced-dementia unit, with its pervasive quiet and its slow-moving, kindly staff, seemed like an anteroom to another realm, filled with people in a state of suspended anticipation.” 


This article caught my eye because I’m currently revising my out-of-print 1996 book of narratives, Tales from My Teachers on the Alzheimer’s Unit. I plan to launch it as an e-book called The Third Floor, Tales from Our Teachers. I, like the director at Beatitudes, often noticed that the elders with dementia, in the way they live in the immediate present, share a gift of truth with us. Many religions around the globe view being in the present moment as a spiritual practice. It is my hope that The Third Floor  will provide a window through which a reader can look through institutional walls into the unique lives of these teachers.

I’d welcome your comments about experiences in this vein, which you may have had with loved ones, or your thoughts on the New Yorker article, which you can read by clicking the link above.

Mother’s Day Proclamation

Did you know that women who lost their sons started Mother’s Day as a protest to the carnage of the Civil War?IMG_0281 Women all over the world are still losing their children to war. Here is the original Mother’s Day Proclamation, written in Boston, 1870 by Julia Ward Howe:

“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have heart, whether our baptism be that of water or tears! Say firmly: 

‘We will not have our great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.

Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limits of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period considered with its objects to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, and the great and general interests of peace.”

For the love of all mothers’ sons and daughters, let’s take Julia Ward Howe’s eloquent plea to heart. Let’s look around at our own lives, and search out where and how we can make peace. If you are so moved, please comment on how you will contribute to a peaceful world.

Pledge of Allegiance to the Earth

It’s Earth Day! Lupines on Park Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National ParkPlease stand and join me in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the Earth.

I pledge allegiance to the earth

and to the flora fauna and human life

that it supports,

one planet indivisible

with safe air, water and soil,

economic justice,

equal rights,

and peace for all.

From the Women’ s Environment and Development Organization of the Women’ s Foreign Policy Council


And now let’s sing!

Amazing Grace, how sweet the earth,
the dirt between my toes,
the sun pours down upon my crown,
the mighty river flows.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
of bird song in the trees,
the air is dense with fragrant scents
soft floating on the breeze.

Amazing Grace the ocean swells,
the waves break on the shore,
the moonlight rides upon the tides,
oh, who could ask for more.

Now we’ve been here four million years
sustained at her sweet breast,
let’s sing her praise for all our days,
then in her womb we’ll rest.

                      -lyrics copyright by Elizabeth Cunningham, 1995. For permission to reprint, contact EC through her website.)

Susa gesturing to the French Broad River behind her