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The Lessons of Alzheimer’s - History Versus Happiness

One of my sisters-in-law forwarded me a very long YouTube video that laid out a version of the history of how the current Israel/Palestinian problem began, tracing it back to the origins of Zionism and how, after much persecution, the European Jews craved for a homeland.  Knowing that I’m Jewish and assuming that I have an interest in this topic she wanted to get my take on it.  I dutifully watched (most of) of the video and admittedly felt mixed feelings, as anyone would or probably should when reviewing the history of two groups of people that has now led to what seems like intractable conflict.

Watching the video reinforced to me how history seems to frequently undermine the potential for happiness.  What conflict today, or in the past, has not emanated from an interpretation of history, whether an historical claim or some wrongdoing?  As I pondered this I reflected upon the situation of my mother-in-law who, in her 80’s, is dealing with a serious case of Alzheimer’s syndrome, which has essentially eliminated much of her memory.  She literally has no memory of yesterday, or even a half an hour ago.  While this symptom tends to elicit feelings of sadness in others, I have an entirely different take.  I’ve known my mother-in-law for more than 16 years and have never seen her happier, as she smiles and laughs all the time, which is in stark contrast to the woman I knew before this onset.

Spiritual teachers frequently emphasize the need to focus on the present – extolling us to realize “that is all we have.”  Having just spent a couple of weeks in Chile with my mother-in-law, my observations deeply reinforce this teaching.  While history has important lessons for us, it is there that most pain and regret lie, and where the urge to correct injustices and the roots of insecurity also reside.  Let’s all focus on the moment – it’s our responsibility to optimize it.

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