This afternoon, I was a car jockey; moving in and out of traffic as I were Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby. I was doing really good, zipping past the slower cars, slipping smoothly by the big rigs and smiling as I passed by those…what are they called? Bubble cars with lawn mower batteries? You know the ones I am referring to…the driver is bigger than the whole car! Anyhow, I was pleased with my progress. Then it happened.
There I was, moving at 70 MPH when this guy in the green Yukon cut me off, almost a near miss of chopping my front end off. Immediately I had a moment of spouting off at the driver; using words such as moron, idiot and jerk. I yelled as if he could hear me, “Learn how to drive moron”! Then I saw it.
“In the event of the Rapture, this car will be unmanned”, the bright red bumper sticker read. I thought to myself, “keep driving like that moron, and you won’t live to make the rapture buddy.” On the left bumper was the Christian fish symbol. A black and white window sticker proclaiming how much Jesus loves us, adorned the back glass. The Yukon and I battled it out for miles, changing lanes, darting around one another; both excelling at going nowhere fast. Traffic screeched to a halt, becoming one of the nation’s largest parking lots.
Sitting in traffic directly behind the Yukon, I noticed another bumper sticker. “Clergy”. Waves of guilt, embarrassment and shame over came me for having called this “Man Of God” such names and for thinking such terrible thoughts. How could I think such bad things about a person who had the same calling as my father?
Isn’t it amazing how we tend to jump to conclusions about people based on single actions? I didn’t know anything about this Yukon driver, except for the fact that he cut me off in traffic. Maybe he had a good reason to be in such a hurry; a wedding to perform, a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, or maybe he was on his way to the hospital to pray for someone. I was simply in a hurry to get home, kick off my shoes and start dinner. Yet, based on my driving, you would think I was in hot pursuit of a criminal……
I see the same type of thoughts patterns in dealing with dementia patients. I hear caregivers define a group of residents as “feeders”, or the heavy care patients as “heavies”, the wandering residents are the “walkers” and the progressed patients are the “bad off ones”. None of these words define the individual. The man who cut me off in traffic was a “jerk”…until I realized he was more than the Yukon he was driving, more than the aggressive, hurried driver he appeared to be. Dementia patients are not the disease they are defined by; they once were engineers, doctors, nurses, farmers, pastors, homemakers, church members, choir singers, deacons, military men and women, on and on and on…….they are not “feeders, heavies, walkers or the bad off ones.” Yet, we label them, based on one aspect of their lives.’
I think we all need to remind ourselves that every person we encounter is several layers deep and not pass judgement so hastily. One action, one bad moment, one wrong decision nor one poor choice defines any of us. Why we do allow those with mental disorders, physical ailments and cognitive impairments to be judged by one single chapter in their lives.
We should always take the time to know other people; understand what they are going through, and relate to them, instead of jumping to conclusions. Just as one little bumper sticker changed my attitude very quickly about the driver ahead of me, we should look beyond what we see and focus on what we know about the person.
Should I have dementia in my late years of life, I hope someone will put a bumper sticker on my wheelchair that says, ” Lovely lady”, not “a “heavy, feeder…..wanderer……
What will yours say?