Aside from abandoning all preconceived notions of an object and then experiencing it in person, we experience all persons, places and things as ideas.
While reflecting, a father can experience the idea of his son by distinguishing his appearance from others either by thinking of the time and interests the two have shared or by remembering the last conversation he had with him.
Today I’m going to detail a family struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
To date there is no known cause or cure. Alzheimer’s affects millions worldwide and those who suffer from it often require consistent attention from a caregiver. The disease causes confusion, mood swings, language difficulties and long-term memory loss.
Imagine a father with one son and one daughter. The father – we’ll call him “Papa” – begins suffering from Alzheimer’s disease sometime after his 70th birthday.
At first he is unable to recall the most recent conversations he has shared with his son. A few months later, he begins to struggle remembering their common interests and experiences.
Eventually, Papa loses the ability to distinguish his son from a complete stranger. Sense perceptions still register but often cannot be connected with past experiences. He can experience a human being standing in front of him but cannot connect this person with the idea of his son.
Months pass and Papa’s wife passes away, so his daughter becomes his primary caregiver. She begins taking trips across the state multiple times a week to visit Papa in a nursing home and take him to doctor’s appointments. As his condition deteriorates, his daughter and his son decide to move him to a hospice, though the daughter still visits him and feeds him his meals when he does decide to eat. This is a process that carries on for several months.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is a condition that worsens over time and ultimately leads to death. Without a cure or a means to reverse the course of the disease, Papa’s fate is one of slow deterioration without a single hope for recovery.
The attention that Papa’s children are giving him is not being given in hope that Papa will recover and regain autonomy; instead it is given to improve his quality of life.
Here we can discover a fundamental difference between nature and human nature. In the former it is the fittest who survive – it could be said that Mother Nature’s attitude is live and let die. Human nature, on the contrary, is a bit more empathetic to the human condition.
See, in nature it is precisely the sick that perish when unable to care for themselves, while human nature calls for a caregiver to sacrifice his or her own ambition in the name of enriching another human life. I have come to describe this act of sacrifice with one word: love.
Nature is hostile and impersonal. It is up to human beings to ensure that human nature is enforced on earth. Love is not the meaning of life, but it is the meaning of human life. Without it, nature and human nature would be identical. In other words, love is what makes us human.
I’ve known Papa and his daughter for most of my life. She has had a tough go of it as a caregiver because the man she takes care of is no longer her idea of “Papa.” However, her idea of Papa will live on long after the impermanent vessel has been given back to nature.
Our ideas are as real to us as people, places and things – to think otherwise is to miss most of the experience.
Andrew Dickson is a religious studies senior from Terry. Follow him on Twitter @addoxfordms.
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