It’s surprising isn’t it what you hear and what you see when you’re out and about in the public’s presence, out and about in the big bad world. I find it such a fascinating pastime, people watching. The trick is to be focused, to have your eyes, ears, even your very being so open to everything around you, to tune in to the ‘collective harmonies’ (and dis-harmonies) as well as all the individual psyches. Well, this is a short but true story and one that happened to and for me only the other day.
It was a Thursday afternoon and I was on my way home after doing some shopping in the city centre. The sky was bright and blue and the sun warming on my skin. Making my way home from the city centre I had to negotiate through the jostling shopping crowds and those impatient and tired people heading home from their places of work. The hustle and bustle of city life is an exciting and fascinating experience; the sights, the sounds, the smells and aromas that drift on the breezes. Street buskers who have found catchment areas and who play a myriad of instruments from violins, guitars, tambourines to the lilting of Northumberland Pipes to all the passers by.
I had made my way to the bus stop where my bus was due in about 35 minutes. As I walked along the street besides the dark towering stone church towards the bus stop I saw an old man and an old woman looking at the posted timetable schedule. I glanced over their heads and saw the due time for my bus and then went to sit down on one of those peculiar thin angled benches that are bolted to the bus shelters’ inside wall. The old man and woman still stood gazing at the timetable chattering quietly. Then I heard the woman say “Is it the X8 we’re catching Jim?”
“Yes” the man said, “Yes, it’s the X8”
I couldn’t help but be drawn in to what then proceeded to happen, even if I had tried, I started to hear, no, in all honesty I started to listen to what was going on and … all I can do now is to related what was being said and what I heard. The following conversations became as a mantra that appeared to be on a continual loop;
Lady’s question … “Is it the X8 we need Jim?”
Man’s reply … “Yes, it’s the X8.”
Lady’s question … “What time is it Jim?”
Man’s reply … “It’s half past four.”
Lay’s question … “Does the X8 take us home Jim?”
Man’s reply … “Yes, it drops us off near to our door.”
Lady’s question … “What day is it today Jim?”
Man’s reply … “It’s a Thursday.”
This above Q & A was as though on a constant repeating loop; this above was a situation being acted and voiced as though it was on a recorded loop with question and answer and then the next question leading to the next answer, and so on, and so on. I can’t honestly say what I was feeling precisely, maybe emotional, yes I was fascinated, upset … probably, but also fearful in a strange kind of way, but I knew from the man’s perspective that it must have been so very wearing. You the ‘reader’ just imagine for a moment and put yourself in the man’s position. You now are this man and in this situation and you are hearing this constant, constant, constant stream of questions with the expectation of your responding, over and over and over again. Can you really and truly imagine this? Can you and do you get any sense of the sheer drain on your mind, your body and your psyche?
After about 15 to 20 rounds of this questioning (each round taking about a minute until the loop of questions renews) the man sat down and turned his back on the woman but still, the questions continued. “Is it the X8 bus we’re catching Jim?” I saw the mans head drop on to his chest, his shoulders slumped ever so slightly and then I watched the so slight and slow shake of his head from side to side.
The woman now not getting the responses to her question that she was expecting then turned and she saw me sitting close by. “Is this the bus stop for the X8?” she asked. “Yes” I said. “What day is it today?” she asks me. “It’s a Thursday” I replied; the barrage of questions now being directed to me. It’s a curious feeling indeed being in that situation not liking it but not being able to politely get up and walk away. Minutes pass and with those minutes a few loops are completed of her questions and my answers following and then another question by her and another answer from me, and so on and on and on.
After a few minutes I see the man as he stands up, straightening himself and then half turning. The woman sees him standing up and so she steps towards him and says very softly “Is this the stop for the X8 Jim?” The man’s face crinkles as he smiles and he puts his right arm around the woman’s shoulder and I hear him say “Come here lass and never mind.”
For 35 minutes the man has been responding to this repeating loop of questions and he does it so very patiently, quietly and caringly. It’s a fascinating if tragic scene that’s being played out before me … and for a very short time with me being drawn in as an unwilling participant.
Eventually the bus arrives and we start to shuffle forwards to get on to the bus. The man and woman step up and entering the man shows his and hers Bus Passes to the driver and then move down the bus to sit down. The man shows the woman that she should sit on the inside next to the window. I too pay my fare and walk down the bus to an empty seat towards the back.
As everyone is sitting waiting for the bus to move off the man suddenly stood up and turned to walk down the aisle of the bus towards me. He approaches me smiling although a little sheepishly and then he is there, standing over me. He reaches out to me and touches my arm. “I just wanted to apologise for my wife but she has some memory problems you see.” He has watery eyes and I’m not sure if they are naturally watery or whether they are tears.
“Please”, I said, “You really have nothing to apologize for.”
The man smiles and pats my arm and then turns to walk back up the bus and to sit down with his wife.
This meeting, this experience of my observation of them, made me feel very emotional and to the extent that I had to turn away and look out the window as tears formed in my eyes. I started to realise that this was his ‘private’ world and it humbled me.
The bus starts to rumble and to move forward and I hear the woman quietly say “Does this bus take us home Jim?” “Yes” I hear him reply, “This bus takes us home lass.”
Ah, now I get it. I now realise what’s going on here. Each situation generates its own series of questions and answers and as the situation changes (from simply waiting for a bus to travelling on the bus to arriving home, etc) so too do the questions start to change but always demanding answers.
It’s a mind-blowing scenario when you consider this living situation and then project and expands the concept. Every waking moment, this very elderly husband cares for his wife (alone with no or little help and support) and where the wife probably has progressive Senile Dementia. This is a disease that takes everything away but leaves you with everything, other than a memory. Every moment, from waking until sleeping, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with no respite, this man endures and cares and always loves; such is his devotion.
The frightening thing for me is that this is not uncommon and acts out in hundreds of thousands of lives and families all over the UK. If you then expand this it runs in to the tens of millions of lives worldwide.
Brought back from my reverie, eventually, the man and woman get up and walk very gingerly to get off the bus and as they do they both wave to me, smiling now, holding each other’s hands. I smile, wave and hold the man’s eye for a second. I wave my hand as the bus pulls away, I am leaving the situation, but the man remains within it, committed and fully immersed.
So, now here I am, travelling alone with my thoughts and I feel a strange, shivering, spine tingling dread. It’s like an epiphany. The dreaded thought is of being like that woman, the dread is of being dependent on others, the dread is of even having to live in a Nursing Home. No, I think to myself, at this time in my life I can’t imagine or accept that hell enveloping me. Other thoughts nudge me, intruding, trespassing in to my psyche, a terrible and frightening thought, “I would finish myself off before getting like that.”
But would I?
Or would my (then) lack of memory stop me?
CEO EQ Consultant
The below is a response to the article by a Head Teacher of very many years experience. If you have any thoughts then please, get in touch.
Can You Remember
Very interesting piece brings up a variety of emotions for me some of which you focus upon. I know you want to hear about the emotions elicited in me and here are the overriding ones.
I questioned why this relationship continued to thrive and thrive it did as shown by the mans’ endearing kindness and support for his wife no matter what the cost or additional hardship to his own life as an individual. The ‘power of the two’, their partnership, their togetherness, their love, their shared life-journey and perhaps their need, reliance and dependence on one another is perhaps greater than the sum of their individual selves.
Yes, I saw this from the perspective of what had been in their lives, what brought them to this point in their lives. From what I glean from your observations a wonderful love that enabled one partner to give their all to the other in a supportive, loving, caring and still growing and nurturing relationship whilst the other showed absolute trust and faith in her partner and was ennobled by the respect and some would say sacrifice to his own life that he was making on her behalf.
Their love, their need for one another was still there but maybe in a different form from an earlier life together. We can imagine what life could be like for the woman without such a wonderful partner but perhaps we just assume that life may be better without the burden of a partner with such a debilitating illness. It may be easier both physically and mentally but would that balance the emptiness, the void of losing completely the person, life-partner that brought fulfilment to you on so many other levels. This is what I mean when I alluded to their co dependence.
Finally the article made me realise once again about the choices in life we make, some choices, some concerns perhaps re a potential future may never reach fruition but gives us the time to reflect upon a future which may hold the same or similar challenges, gives space for the development of wise decisions. So thank you for your thought provoking observations, I believe Michael that you have captured the moment once again and portrayed it in a way that will elicit many emotions.
From the Head Teacher