Human beings are exceptionally adaptable.
Yesterday, on business, I visited Horizon Bay, an assisted living facility in Concord.
The person I met with was delayed for about twenty minutes, and they offered me a seat in a sort of central room there.
It’s quite a nice room. A stereo system put out some decent music — show tunes and other familiar tunes from yesteryear. Perfect for me.
There were newspapers and magazines to read. Inspirational quotes by Churchill and others on the walls.
It was moments before dinner time. A group of elderly residents sat in a circle. They passed the time sitting, staring into space, talking to themselves, or napping.
I took my seat in the circle and, oddly enough, felt right at home.
A few months ago, this might have been a little uncomfortable.
A few years ago, it would have freaked me out.
That’s what daily visits to Carillon’s Alzheimer’s unit — in order to visit my mother — can do for a person.
Today, I found it rather peaceful. And perfectly normal.
I remember experiencing the same type of acclimation as a teacher.
My first two years (1982-84) I taught high school. The ages of the students didn’t throw me, since, at the time, I was just a few years older than they were.
But the learning difficulties did. I had just finished Wake Forest and was teaching students at South Rowan High School with special needs. Many of them had trouble reading. Many of them also worked a full third shift in the mill at night, and went to school in the day. Even if they had been highly motivated to learn, they were too sleepy!
After a couple of years, I switched to middle school. Talk about energy. Those kids weren’t sleepy at all.
Fifteen years later, the age difference between those kids and me had become rather pronounced.
And then I transferred into elementary.
It was a breath of fresh air. I remember my first class of third graders in the computer lab at Morgan Elementary. I taught the same lesson on spreadsheets I had taught to many eighth grade classes, and they learned it three times faster.
And I remember the first time I had a kindergarten class in the computer lab, at Rockwell Elementary School.
There were four adults in the room. The teacher, the teacher’s assistant, another technology facilitator who was helping me with the “transition,” and me.
We used a popular and ingenious piece of software called Kidpix.
After about fifteen minutes I badly needed a nap.
One child asked me how to do something, and I took the mouse to show him. This is something I had been doing for years in middle school. Just a quick demonstration and then give the mouse back and let the child do it.
When I took the mouse from this kid, he popped my hand and seized it back.
“Get your own!” he said.
I worked in elementary schools for seven years and remain, to this day, amazed by the energy, patience, and giving spirit of all the kindergarten teachers I observed.
I feel the same way now about those special people who work as caregivers for the elderly.
Of course, some extraordinary people have written books about how they acclimated to horrific circumstances: Viktor Frankl, Wole Soyink, Anne Frank.
But even with my narrow set of experiences, it’s interested to see the changes in perspective that can happen so quickly.