From the Silver Pen of Juan Santini

 

This week, we are honored to present the four winning essays recognized in Senior Living Communities’ Silver Pen writing competition.  The competition was open to high school seniors in Vero Beach, Fla., Melbourne, Fla., Spartanburg, S.C., and Carmel, Ind.  This year, we received over 100 entries and were thrilled with the amount of interest high school students showed in the aging process and in the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, specifically.  They were asked to write on the following topic:

“Nearly 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s which is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.  Contrary to scientific evidence, many caregivers with loved ones who are diagnosed with the disease believe that some memories never go away completely – they just emerge spontaneously and less often as the disease progresses.  Do you believe memories are a function of our physical bodies or do you believe that memories live on even if we cannot recall them?”

Each day this week, we will post the winning essay with a brief bio and picture of our winner. To learn more about the second, third and fourth place winners and read their essays, visit the Silver Pen website at http://silverpen-slc.com.

Today, we feature Juan Santini from Vero Beach, Florida.

Juan is a senior at Saint Edwards School in Vero Beach, Fla. Following graduation, he will attend Furman University and major in Pre-Law. He is the third of seven children in a large family and was homeschooled until 10th grade. Currently, Juan serves as executive president of the student body at Saint Edwards and as a student ambassador.  He also plays football, swims and is an avid weightlifter.  Juan became more interested in Alzheimer’s after his uncle was diagnosed with the disease.

 

Juan’s essay is as follows:

Do you believe memories are a function of our physical bodies or do you believe that memories live on even if we cannot recall them?

“You are what you eat.”  “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  “Tell me who you’re with and I’ll tell you who you are.”  All these sayings have one thing in common; they are trying to define the thing that makes us who we are.  Each one of us is formed by food, because it can mean health or sickness; genetics, because they can predispose certain tendencies; and environment, because we are influenced and influential.  However, the most powerful determiner of a human being’s actions is past memories.   Whether it be a triumph early in life that gives confidence or a traumatizing experience, a memory, if strong enough, can affect how we live the rest of our lives. The potential power of a memory is indisputable, but what is a memory? Something as potent and powerful as a memory should be able to live far longer than our feeble brains can recall it.

Yet, a sickness like Alzheimer’s can effectively drain one’s personal ocean of memories down to a puddle in a few short years. It can take a lifetime of experience and whittle it down to almost nothing. Aids, cancer, leprosy… all affect our physical beings in terrible ways. One of these diseases can take a strong young man in the prime of life and turn him into a shadow of what he once was. But as long as the man’s brain is intact, there is still a degree of health in him. So long as he can still converse and remember where and who he is, to a certain extent, he remains healthy. He can still live a life with human connection and meaning.  He can still have the joys of meaningful relationships, despite his deteriorating physical condition.

Sadly, that is not the case if the brain becomes ill.  A person with Alzheimer’s or another degenerative neurological disease might be healthy in the body, but if the mental processes deteriorate, that person’s capacity for relationships might suffer.   We may see a healthy body on the exterior, but what truly makes us feel close to someone, which cannot be seen, may be languishing. Memories shared and times together are not visible to the naked eye, yet they can be swept away more easily than writing on a chalk board.  So in one sense, memories are a function of our physical bodies, albeit influential, bound to the ability of our brains to recall them.  Personal memories go only so far as our brains and bodies are able to carry them.

However, one of the most wonderful things about humanity is that we tend to live in community with one another.  Therefore, even if one person can no longer remember, or even dies, some memories from that person live on in other people’s hearts and minds from generation to generation.

People are not one-dimensional and neither are memories. Both transcend the cognitive and spill into the emotional. A memory can start off as a mental fact tied to synapses and neurons, and develop into an idea that causes people to act.  Memories are powerful things. Years after a punch line is given by a grandfather, grandchildren can remember the joke and laugh again.  Decades after a burial, a touching memory can still lead a widow to share a story about her late husband. Memories can elicit reactions of anger, sadness, fear, joy; as many emotions as a human can have can be stimulated by memories.   Memories from a previous generation can serve as cause for war in the next generation. They speak to us so much more deeply than a cold fact. Nobody is inspired by the fact that two plus two equals four, but the memory of a father’s hard work, or a mother’s tenderness can change a son or daughter’s life.

From a strictly technical standpoint, a memory dies when the original holder loses his capability to recall it.  However, if the person chooses to immortalize his memory, whether it be by written word, painting, notable actions, verbal accounts, or simple everyday gestures, that memory takes on a life of its own, independent of the original owner’s fate.  As the poet Elvis Presley wrote in a song that survived him, “Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind / Memories, sweetened thru the ages just like wine / Memories, memories, sweet memories.” Or in the words of another dead poet whose memory far outstripped his existence, “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” And that is what I believe memories to be.

 

 

 

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