Watching Julianne Moore’s sensitive and touching portrayal of a women with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice, I’m struck by how much each of us stand to lose. Whether it occurs for us as the loss of our selves first, as it does for Alice, or in some other configuration, we’ll one day lose all of our relationships, all of our possessions, all of our stories.
We’ll lose trees and buses, boring train journeys, washing the dishes, music, kisses, worrying about money, sun-filled afternoons, drawing, gazing into the eyes of another, learning, the saltiness of the ocean, tax returns, earache, job titles, paperclips, mountains.
It’s the knowing that Alice’s departure awaits all of us, though in wildly varying forms, that makes watching it so tender and so affecting.
And it raises a question for all of us – what to do with this knowledge?
Surrender and despair because nothing ever works out anyway?
Open ever more widely to the wonder of the life that is here already?
Make ourselves feel strong, impenetrable, holding rigidly onto our ideas and fighting away what scares us?
Retreat into a world of banal distraction, turning into what’s trivial because it soothes us?
Build towers and edifices – real or symbolic – so that our names are never forgotten?
Damage and destroy others, using our destructive power to give us the feel of conquering death?
Open ever more to the knowledge that we’re all – all of us – in this together and act from there?
It seems to me that we’re always in the midst of choosing one of these responses, or others like them, whether we’re paying attention to our choices or not. And the kind of life we lead will flow, in significant part, from the way in which we choose to run from life and death, and from the way we choose to turn towards them.