I had seen her before and said “hello” but clearly that wasn’t going to be enough this time around. “What’s your dog’s name?” she asked with a big, happy smile, “Can I pet it?”
“Her name is Daisy” I responded, “sure you can pet her, but I’m going to stay back a bit so we don’t get too close.. Did you get your vaccine yet?”
“What vaccine?” she asked, her clear eyes staring straight into mine.. “What’s your dog’s name?”
And so began yesterday’s unexpected, 30 minute detour into the spin cycle that is Alzheimer’s disease. “Can I walk with you?” she pleaded as she stroked Daisy’s fur, “I really want to walk down the road with you and your dog. What is your dog’s name?”
I tried ten different ways to talk this sweet, old lady out of joining us but she was having none of it. She was aching, literally aching, to go on a walk with me and my little dog. “Can I push the carriage?” she asked..
(My dog has floating knee caps so I walk with a dog carriage in case she gets tired.)
“Of course you can push it.” I said as I stepped away trying to keep us at least a few feet apart.. and as she placed her hands on the bar and started to push, pieces of her life story began to flow through the thick fog clogging the channels of her mind.
It was obvious from her accent that Johanna was German so within no time we were not only talking, but singing, in her native tongue. She is a mother to ten children, though when she recited their names with the help of her fingers, she could not remember the name of that tenth one.
“I have one more finger left!” she exclaimed with a frown, “Being old is hard! I can’t remember things. My husband stays at home because he doesn’t like to walk with me. Your dog is so pretty, what is her name?”
A little while later, as we said our goodbyes at her front door, she began reciting an old children’s song.. “Hänschen klein, ging allein..in die weite Welt hinein..” It’s a story about a little boy heading out into the world alone as his mom sits home and cries for the son who has wandered away.
I wondered if Johanna’s husband even knew she had left the house..
“Auf wiedersehen!” she called out after finishing- her smile big and her eyes so bright “I’ll see you and your dog again! What’s your dog’s name?”
I thought a lot about my chance encounter with Johanna last night..
I thought about how Covid had made me a bit self-centered..my health, my diet, my fitness, my goals, my projects, my walks, my “self care”… I thought about how I spend my days and wondered.. Was 30 minutes talking with someone who won’t even remember me (or my dog) time well spent?
I don’t know how to explain it, but I I am absolutely convinced it was. In a world where everything is measured, tracked, photographed and instagrammed, it might be these very moments..
the ones that “count” towards nothing,
these moments that only exist as they unfold and then disappear forever..
this thin sliver in time where Johanna lives,
this exact, present moment..
may ultimately be what really matters most.