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August 9, 2014

The Gift of All Present

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All Present, a song circle for people living with ESML (Early Stage Memory Loss) is in its second quarter. Almost everyone from the spring returned. It’s a peculiar feature of this group that if I hadn’t been told every one of these singers had some form of dementia, I wouldn’t have known. Some of them drive themselves to class at the Greenwood Senior Center. It’s true that some of them need their care-giver to sit next to them to keep them oriented but there are days when I could use someone like that. Once the class starts, however, I don’t imagine we look different from any group of adults doing something as quaint as sitting around with song sheets instead of cell phones in our hands, and singing. Even people in The OK Chorale drop their music from time to time.

All Present has a formidable amount of music to drop. We have built up a repertoire that requires 50 –and growing–pages of song sheets. This bunch can’t learn anything new but there seems to be no end to the songs they remember. I have tried to create song sheets that are easy to read and can be added to; this has proven to be more complicated than I would have thought. I had re-written them twice when Susan, the wittiest woman I know got involved.

Susan copy-edited my memoir. She is the reason I even know what a copy-editor is. After I wrote my book, several English major friends proofed it. Then I published it. Then Susan read it.

“You didn’t have it copy-edited,” she said

After some hesitation on her part she gave me her copy of my book with corrections. Every page looked like a crime scene. There were mistakes on every single page. I was horrified. I felt like I had been walking around without underwear and with my skirt tucked into its waistband. I couldn’t fathom the number of inconsistencies, spacing and punctuation errors, and misspellings I had not only just missed but hadn’t even dreamed existed.

“Don’t worry too much about it,” she soothed. “Probably no one but another copy editor would notice most of these.”

I corrected everything, paid a fee and had the book re-published.

I have an idea that copy-editors are unable to read anything without a red pen in their hands. When Susan got a look at my song sheets, she asked me if she could streamline them a little bit—or something that sounded innocuous. They came back to me with Track Changes streaked across them. I shuddered in remembrance.  Susan and her husband Mike come every week to help with the song circle and we are still finding lines that aren’t scanning.  The song sheets are, like all of us, a work in progress.

I was flustered during the first class. There’s always confusion at first. Added to this, the sponsoring organization (Visiting Angels) who provides the money that pays me was hovering around filming us. I had forgotten to tune my guitar and had a hard time doing it front of 15 pairs of very interested eyes and 15 pairs of ears, many of which are more acutely aware of intonation than I am. I looked at Jim who gave me thumbs up and down. When I finally got it in tune, Roger said, “You could have taken in in the next room where it was quiet.”

I met the half dozen new people.

“Elena,” said Midge. ‘That’s a beautiful name.”

“So’s yours,” I said.

“No, it’s not.”

Busted while trying to be nice. I sometimes forget that while these people may have dementia, there’s nothing wrong with their minds.

“OK,” I conceded. “Midge is a cute name.”

She smirked. I’ve gotten used to that smirk with Midge.

We sang “Chattanooga Choo Choo” one day. On a whim I asked the group if there was a song they hated.

“Chattanooga Choo Choo,” Midge declared.

“You mean the one we just sang?”

“Did we?”

The next week I told Midge we wouldn’t sing “Chattanooga Choo Choo” since she hated it.

“Did I say I hated it?” she laughed

Vivian, with the beautiful, cheerful face and the sweet smile, has no idea who I am week after week though she greets me like I’m her daughter. Dennis seems uncertain of who I am until we start singing, then something in him remembers.

They all are so familiar to me and their faces are so dear and so expressive. I have to remind myself that their minds or parts of their minds are in a dimension I can’t access. They can’t remember what they did an hour earlier. They can’t learn anything new. But their ability to be present to the moment is richer than mine. That’s their great gift to me.

All Present and The OK Chorale are presenting

A Summer Musicale
3:00 PM, Saturday, August 23
Community Hall, Phinney Neighborhood Center
6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle.
By donation for ESML programs at the Greenwood Senior Center.

Everyone is welcome. Prepare to be surprised at how rich the present can be.

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