Bob Lowe is an imposing figure. You can hear his big booming voice from across the room at the adult day care center where we met. I was a little nervous to be introduced, but he immediately cracked a smile and was happy to chat with me.
Bob had some trouble tracking my questions but was immediately eager to share a favorite story. Bob was born in 1948 and grew up in Rockville Center, Long Island. His father worked for the phone company and when Bob was about 10, decided to take Bob along to work for the day. With a few other men, they drove in a big work truck to the bottom of the Manhattan bridge – a dream come true. As the men got into an elevator car, his father issued a stern warning – “stand in the corner and do NOT move when the doors open!” When the elevator finally stopped, the doors slid open revealing a precipitous drop straight down to the East River and an incredible view of the Manhattan skyline. His dad and the other men quickly exited the car, leaving Bob inside to wait with the doors open. Thrilled and terrified, Bob sat in the corner of the open elevator not moving, waiting for his dad to return for what felt like an eternity. The men returned eventually after completing their work and Bob returned home that night with his Dad. 60 years later, Bob relished reliving the adventure and if it were yesterday.
Bob suffers from dementia and had trouble answering specific questions about his past. But stories of adventures and struggles came freely and clearly gave Bob pleasure and a sense of belonging and purpose to tell them.
It was a poignant reminder that meaning and happiness – however fleeting – are freely available. And that for some, exacting recall of facts, dates, and specifics are not a necessity.