I’m an optimist.  I’m a positive-thinker.  I look on the bright side.  Maybe it’s in my blood, in my genes.  Maybe it’s because I’m a straight, white, middle-class, Christian, able-bodied U.S. citizen whose experiences have often been positive.  But last week I was talking with a friend.  A good friend.  But a friend who isn’t all of the adjectives in my list above.  She is most of them, but not all of them.

We were talking and I made a statement about how we were going to make change, we were going to defeat racism.  “No we aren’t,” she said flatly.  “There’s no way.  But we aren’t going to let it get us down.”

I paused.  I believe we can make major changes.  Her experience tells her otherwise.  I don’t know who is right.  We care about and respect each other, even if one of us is right and the other is wrong on this matter.  But it made me think.  It made me wonder.  “Am I too pie-in-the-sky, look-on-the-bright-side, everything-will-work-out” in my perspective?  When I think of racism, classism, poverty, immigration, gun violence, gender and sexual identity equality… so many topics that I care about, I am full of passion and hope.

But what about dementia?  Is it the same?  Do I think I can change the stigma attached?  Do I think I can shift society’s perspective?  It’s funny, I intend to speak up and speak out, but no, I don’t think I can make grand sweeping changes.

So what is the difference?  The other issues I care about… they aren’t really my issues.  They are things I truly care about, but they are issues of my neighbor.  I think I can do great things for my neighbor.  But dementia.  That’s my problem, my issue.  I expect to get dementia.  That’s one thing I don’t think I can change.

That’s odd, isn’t it?  I don’t feel as powerful, as capable, as confident when it’s the issue that holds me back, that causes me suffering.

Does that mean I’m a shallow, uninformed person on the topics I was speaking about and that I only “get” the full weight of my one issue that I bear a burden for?  Maybe.  But maybe not… what if it’s more like this:  We are called to be people of hope and possibility.  We are called to speak up and speak out.  We are called to believe that with God, nothing is impossible.  We believe that the Kingdom of God is a time and place of justice, equality, compassion and grace.  But, when we are the one who suffers in a particular way… the homeless woman discussing poverty, the gay teenager discussing inclusion, the Syrian refugee discussing immigration, the carrier of the FTDP-17 gene discussing dementia… maybe then, we aren’t able to be the one who casts the vision and carries the banner.  Maybe that’s when we need others by our side, others hoping when our hope runs out, others believing when our faith falters.

My friend’s suffering is real and she doesn’t believe racism will ever go away.  I am going to believe for her.  And work for her and speak up for her and stand beside her.  But when it comes to teaching others about the value of persons with dementia, I’m going to need my friend, and I’m going to need you.  Speak up for me, please, when I can’t speak.  Tell my story please, when I can’t tell it.  Brush my hair and make me a milkshake and put on some Indigo Girls tunes for me, when I can’t do those things for myself.

I’m not ready to give up.  I won’t quit believing in a better and brighter future for all.  Stand with me, and please don’t give up either.  Believe, and if one of us can’t keep believing, maybe the other one can believe for the both of us.  And, as my friend said, “Don’t let it get us down.”



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