The first part sounds a little bit depressing. The man my father used to be is fading. I see him like a passenger standing on the caboose of a train as it rapidly departs the station. He’s holding onto the rail and looking teary-eyed as the Alzheimer engine picks up speed and takes him away from us. He’s not always sure how I’m related to him, and will often ask if I’ve ever met my mother. He isn’t sure where he is. In especially heartbreaking moments, he’ll ask who he is.
Dad grows increasingly frustrated – angry even – at this unfair turn of events. He is old and afraid and more fragile than he’s ever been. My strong, John Wayne dad has always felt a discomfort with needing anyone. How it must cut to need help finding his way to the dining room. He will look into the mirror, then turn to me in shock at the old, frail man that is looking back at him.
Since I live nearly a thousand miles from him, there is precious little I can do to ease him. Out of desperation I turned to a book. About ten years ago, he wrote his life story – or the first twenty-five years of it. It covers 1928 to 1953. Growing up in a small Wyoming town and his years as a young soldier in Korea. Little did I know that it would work as a kind of time machine for my dad.
As I begin to read his words back to him, a strong breeze blows through his cluttered mind and the years scatter like autumn leaves. He is a 17-year-old again, riding around in his friends car on a moonlit night. He puts his head out the car window, the wind on his suntanned skin, laughing. He’s a young sergeant newly deployed to Korea, nervous about his responsibilities, trying to soothe his worried mama back home. He’s a shy young man, trying to work up the courage to ask the pretty red-headed girl for a dance.
He laughs and he sometimes weeps. But he is truly alive in those moments. They are as real to him as they were when he first experienced them.
We may never really find a way to time travel. The skeptic in me knows this. But seeing the transformative power of words – turning a confused old man into a joyful young buck – well, that’s enough of a miracle for me.