Excerpts from a sermon preached on Sept. 30
The Parish of the Epiphany, Winchester, MA
Many of us live in the Golden Age of Memory. Talk to anybody who grew up in the ‘50s with Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best. It was a time when cities had vibrant downtowns and blissful suburbs, forgetting, of course, Jim Crow laws, redlining practices, and real estate covenants that protected such communities from unwanted outsiders. The fact is that nothing is forever, and nothing is all good, including the so-called Golden Age of Memory.
After receiving my diagnosis of Frontotemporal Dementia, I prayed, dear God, let me just ignore the diagnosis and return to life as it had been. That wasn’t successful. I simply couldn’t live as I had before.
I wanted to go back to my good-old days of cathedral ministry and civic leadership without paying the price of working 60-70 hours a week, eating on the run, not getting enough exercise or sleep, and generally being too busy saving the world instead of taking care of me.
The great wisdom teachers speak of dying to oneself and being reborn, or losing life and finding it anew. Richard Rohr calls this process “falling upward” into the second half of life, discovering what might be described as the fullness of life.
I realize that I’m falling upward – into the fullness of life – with dementia. I have no doubt that I am losing the life I’ve always known. I’m also certain that I’m finding a new one. When I deny the reality of the disease, grieve the lost aspects of my old identity, and resist the emerging aspects of the new me, I get tied up in knots. But when I accept what has died, let go of what has been lost, and celebrate what is being reborn, I start discovering surprising gifts and strengths, a different kind of balance, a new way of living in the world.
While I am praying with hope for a cure to FTD, I’m also asking God for the courage to navigate this journey and face the anticipated course of this disease so that I might live and die with dignity. I’m praying that as my dementia progresses, I won’t lose the essence of who I am, but rather that I will be Tracey until I take my last breath on earth.
You see, the author of the Letter of James was absolutely right: “Prayer is powerful and effective.” We just have to be willing to accept the wisdom of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need.”