A friend of mine arrived at our weekly Tuesday gathering, feeling “indignant.”
M tells the small group of us that her irritability is a surprise to her. And it bothers her. She is a gentle soul, usually quick to take blame for a mis-heard sentence, an interruption, or a moment of forgetfulness. She does not want to judge or be angry at others.
M was really shaken about feeling the turbulence of her indignation. When she announced this, we began falling over ourselves in our eagerness to find out what set her off. We were as surprised as she was.
M had a recent encounter with a medical professional, an appointment to assess – as M delicately put it – “if I’m losing my mind…or something like that.” M described the interview as “exhausting”: she had to produce knowledge of many things, she was asked to discern how one thing was related to another, and she had to demonstrate that she was oriented to the world around her. The doctor “perhaps a psychiatrist or some such” seemed nice enough, and M assumed she must be well-enough educated to assess if a person was of sound mind. Or not.
“But when we were leaving her office,” M elaborated, “my son explained why we were in a bit of a rush.”
“My mother has to get to her drone meeting,” the son told the doctor.
“Excuse me?” the doctor said. “What did you say?”
“It’s an anti-drone meeting,” M explained. No wonder the doctor was confused, she thought. The way her son had phrased it, it might seem that M was going to a meeting of drone enthusiasts. Who would expect an elderly person like herself to be rushing off to attend such a meeting?
The doctor still looked baffled. “I don’t understand,” she said. “What do you mean by drone?”
“We meet every week to pray for an end to our government’s use of killer drones. Our vigil is scheduled on Tuesdays, the day the President meets with his advisors to determine who the targets of the drone strikes should be,” M.explained patiently.
But still, the doctor’s face was blank.
Now the cause of our friend’s indignation was revealed. The doctor, it seemed, did not know anything about drones. She did not know that they are used by the U.S. government to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and (probably) a host of other countries. And, like most Americans, she did not know that drones have even been used to assassinate Americans who are suspected of having ties to Al Queda.
This raises the question of what the doctor — and many other Americans — actually know about the world they inhabit. And it should challenge the medical system that determines what proves that someone is oriented to the world around them. How do you assess someone who is aware of Government-approved assassination by drones, yet may not remember her cell phone number? And how do we as a nation manage to be oblivious to the incidences of “collateral damage” – the unintended killing of innocent civilians who are attending a family wedding with the “target”? Are we mentally competent when we can identify the Super Bowl as a sport event involving football, but fail to know that drones are not simply male worker bees?
This leads me to another question. Why are so many of my contemporaries embarrassed by short term memory lapses? As a woman of a certain age, (I prefer “octogenarian” to “senior citizen,” although both categories could be supposed to indicate a weighty status), I have been considering this question for some time. An old friend of mine was frowning over her inability to remember the name of an actress in a movie we had seen some years ago. We both scrunched up our faces, scanning through the memory files, desperate to come up with the name. And then the name popped up in my brain, and I shouted it with a triumphal flourish that would have been completely appropriate if I had been notified that I had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
But what I said next was the important thing, in my humble opinion. “We are not forgetting things,” I declared. “We are remembering enough things, while at the same time clearing out our brains to make room for what really matters. We are clearing the circuits for Great Thoughts.”
I plan to pass this along to M to bolster her when she goes back to educate that doctor about the existence of drones.