A few years back I found myself testing the value of simple human validation.
My dad had been institutionalized for Alzheimer’s. Each time I visited his care facility there was a phalanx of patients sitting opposite the elevator doors. The patients vied for seats in the area with the highest traffic.
Initially, I steeled myself to this gauntlet. These wraiths awaited each visitor like the ancient mariner waited on the wedding guest. Only these petitioners were addled and agitated. Little was left of their vitality or coherence. What remained was an aching need to connect.
Each time I arrived, a patient would approach me and launch into a nonsensical conversation. Rather than brush them off, I decided to play along with the libretto of lunacy.
Marian worried about the luggage. She rose from her chair and approached me as I got off the elevator.
When will the luggage be delivered?
It was like a bizarre version of theatre sports wherein my identity in the game would be provided by clues.
Could you check with the purser?
It appears we are on a ship.
Of course: can you tell me exactly what it is you’re concerned about?
Our luggage; are you sure it all got on board?
Oh yes, I personally made sure that every last piece was boarded.
Including the tricycle?
Tricycle?! Okay ….
Yes, I carried that on board myself.
Here, her features softened. She chuckled:
Oh, that’s grand: Gregory will be wanting that tricycle.
Well, not to worry: it’ll all be delivered to your stateroom shortly. Is there anything else I can do for you?
She seemed happy to return to the promenade deck of her imaginings.
Another day, another resident approached me.
So, are you interested or not?
She plants herself in front of me, arms folded and impatient.
Well, I haven’t quite decided.
I was buying time; I had no idea what it was that I was supposed to have been deliberating on.
This sort of opportunity doesn’t come along very often, you know.
Again, confrontational and demanding.
Yes I’m aware of that …
Still, hoping for a clue.
It’s a spectacular piece of property.
Finally! The tip-off.
Yes, indeed, it is. It’s not often a parcel like that comes on the market.
She seems pleased that I’d acknowledged the value on the line.
That’s right! So, are you interested, or not?
The conversation was illogical, of course. But as we spoke I watched something change within her. It wasn’t so much that she became lucid, but that a weight seemed to lift from her shoulders. Her face brightened, her eyes lost their worry. Within this exchange and my cooperation with it, she seemed to regain some foothold in the world that had slipped away from her.
We decided to speak further about the decision upon our next meeting. With her hand now firmly on the tiller of her affairs, she seemed content to let the matter slip. She had attended to business; all was right with the world.
I came to know many of them by name. I knew their preoccupations and concerns. I knew who bullied whom, and who had no visitors. I made it a point to address them by name and to touch them, lay a hand on their arm. It might have been presumptuous, but I often touched their faces.
They liked that. So did I.