Between the Lines

The other day, after showing one of my writers a program feature she wasn't aware of, she asked why I know everything. It was a statement born of hyperbole, in that I actually to know the least out of all my friends, and there's a variety of subjects I know very little about. Real estate. Travel. Relationships. Modern television. Web design. Brain surgery. Rocket science. Quantum physics. Etc. But it did lead us down the road of the topic of knowledge in general, and all the things our brains soak up pertinent to our careers that will probably be useless or outdated by the time we retire. My dad was an awesome mechanic in his day, but as cars became more reliant on computers it changed the game. He can still diagnose and fix most conventional problems, but if something is related to a faulty code he needs help. I'd still trust my car to his knowledge and guidance, but there are times I've had trouble with other electrical devices such as my computer and his solution was to get a voltmeter and “check the amperage”. It's great if there's current and the little bulb lights up, but that may not remotely be related to the solution I need.

At least my dad worked with practical knowledge. When I'm almost 80, I doubt if knowing hidden key commands or the best way to search a company's digital archive of files will be all that necessary. I think about all the codes rattling in my brain from every job I've ever had. “Hey, have you done a coin flyer recently?” asked one of my friends the other day. “09-NP285, M3123” I rattled off, without actually looking up the file. It's a little scary. There's so much information that's important right now, to get through each day. My calendar is filled with milestones, meetings and deadlines. Sometimes it can be overwhelming and foreboding, but I've learned that these goals are met and passed so quickly, that there's no point in getting all that worried, especially since there will always be a new batch around the corner.

One thing about me is that I have a natural curiosity. When people ask me questions, I don't just answer because I enjoy helping them. I want to reinforce the knowledge I already have, and when I don't have an answer I'll take the time to find it, because then I've learned something new as well. I think there's a point we all reach in life where we stop trying to learn new things, when we become indifferent or frustrated. I have a hard time believing that the same man who'd sit in my passenger seat and tell me my car needed a new part based on the sound it was making is the same one who will come to me with a handful of remotes and ask, “How do I get channel 11?”

On the way to a movie a few weeks ago, I was telling one of my college friends about the problems my uncle has been having with dementia, how after he aimlessly drove to Staten Island one day we had to confiscate and eventually sell his car, and how he'll soon be going into a nursing home. “You know what the problem with the rest of the world is, that India doesn't have?” he asked, “Turmeric.” Apparently this spice, a key ingredient in curry, is helpful in preventing the degeneration of brain tissue. It can't reverse the damage, but it would keep it from getting worse, in theory. My dad is already taking it in vitamin form for other reasons, but I wonder if it his keeping him sharp. He might not be getting new knowledge, but he hasn't lost an ounce of what he already has.

My mom and her other brother have been taking turns visiting my uncle to give him his medication and make sure he eats, which he'd forget otherwise. As I drove her to church on Saturday evening, she told me about the day they'd had. I'm sorry to admit that sometimes on weekends when I'm feeling tired or cranky I might tune her out, but this time I was listening. “We colored, today.” she told me. An 80-year-old man and his 70-year-old kid sister sat down with coloring books and crayons, her idea to keep him sharp. He didn't question it, and went along with it. There were some puzzles in the book, and he couldn't solve word problems with missing letters, but he did a good job coloring between the lines. They colored in some drawings of pigs, with my uncle making some unique choices of green and purple mixed in with the pink. When they were done she asked him to sign it, and he still possesses enough of himself to know his own name. She added a word balloon to her pigs and made them say “oink, oink.” As she watched, he took up the crayons again and also made a word balloon. When he was done, she took the book and saw that his pig was saying, “Wowee!”

It's a strange cycle this life, how we live bookended between the lines of childhood and the second childhood that old age might be. There was a time in his youth when my uncle tried his hand at art, and he still has most of his abstract paintings. He settled into an engineering career, drawing up floor plans and wiring diagrams, but the art is still within him. Ultimately, when we do begin to lose pieces of ourselves, we can only hope to hang on to the most important ones. As it turns out, everything we know now is probably not as important as we think.



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