By Chuck Griffin
Matthew 25:37-40: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
In 2018, as my father’s wife experienced a deeper slide into dementia, I had the opportunity to participate in an “Alzheimer’s simulator,” along with my dad and daughter.
We wore goggles to distort our vision and headphones playing multiple radio tracks to simulate auditory hallucinations. We slipped on rubber gloves filled with birdseed to replicate tactile difficulties, and we also had birdseed in our shoes. We took turns entering a room, where we were given a short list of simple tasks.
My dad went in with my daughter. Pity the poor woman, a stranger, who had to go in with me.
Once she and I were properly attired and inside, the instructor gave us a list of simple tasks to perform. Mine involved finding a t-shirt and a tie and putting them in their proper places, among other activities I would quickly forget. The instructor then turned out the light and closed the door.
My first goal was to obtain some light, so I could at least use my impaired vision a little. I fumbled around the room, trying to approximate where a light switch would be. I found it and flipped it.
“You’re not supposed to turn on the light!” the woman cried.
“She didn’t say we couldn’t turn on the light. A person with Alzheimer’s might try to turn on the light!” I replied. I was surprised at how quickly we raised our voices; of course, we were already hearing voices, so who was saying what quickly got a little confusing.
“You’re not supposed to turn on the light!” she repeated, this time more staccato. She yanked open the door, having found it a lot faster than I had found the light switch. “Are we supposed to turn on the light?” she called out.
The instructor came in. “Don’t turn on the light,” she said, turning it off. I did not find even one item, and I was—let’s see, what’s a really polite word—peeved. I blame my exaggerated response on the stress of the simulator, but I fear I am going to be a really grumpy old man.
When Jesus ties our judgment to how we have cared for the suffering, two of the needy types he mentions, the prisoners and the sick, have something in common. They are physically trapped, unable to go anywhere.
With our movements and interaction restricted during this pandemic, I feel like I am in a simulator again. I will not call it a good experience, but for those of us trying to live the Christian life, it could prove to be an important experience, one that generates new levels of empathy for those who are trapped.
At the Alzheimer’s center, I eventually got to leave the room, take off the goggles, headphones and gloves, and shake the birdseed out of my shoes. Similarly, most of us eventually will resume normal lives, going where we want and doing what we want.
Some will remain bound to a place, however, possibly for the rest of their lives. Having simulated what they face every day, perhaps we will find ourselves more mindful about reaching out to them.
Lord, keep the prisoners and the chronically homebound in our thoughts, and help us use the tools we have available to us to offer them your love and comfort. Amen.