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Wherever Rod Moore Is, I Hope He's Safe

Your life is a novel you are both writing and reading simultaneously.

And then, without intent, you lose your place in the novel. Was I on Page 220 or 350? Who was the main character? Who was I?

Life is the narrative bleep that happens.

The main character in your novel can become someone else. Maybe that's what all the various dementia diseases are. You forget who you are, and why. You lose the bookmark.

You can't plan that, because orchestrating your life only recognizes a pending future, not the specifics. The novel has many alternative plot lines, all of which end at the inevitable last page of your novel. But how you get there is an unwritten page.

All humans intuitively hope their novel has many blank pages yet to be filled with life.

I thought of that when I read the news of Rod Moore, 76, who is missing. We all hope for his safe return. He walked out of his Valparaiso home on Tuesday night and has not been seen since. I officially request the universe gives Rod a break and returns him safely.

Hasn't he - and all of us for that matter - put up with enough as it is? Life is hard enough without torture's exclamation point in the last chapter.

Perhaps he picked Independence Day weekend as a symbolic gesture, or perhaps that was only coincidental.

Rod is famous around Valparaiso. He was the head athletic trainer at the university for 50 years, and physical ed professor until he retired in 2016. He's a revered Indiana Football Hall of Famer in his profession and cared for generations of the school's athletes. Valpo high school's kids, too.

He grew up in Spokane but lost his sports career due to his own injuries. But Michigan State basketball coach Jud Heathcote got him into athletic training.

He said he wanted to retire so, oddly enough, he could have more time to officiate high school games.

"There's a lot you can't do when you're working a 90-hour week. It takes time away from the family," he told an interviewer in 2016 upon his retirement. "I'm looking to do more with the family, the grandkids especially. I'll still be around."

And though Rod is older than I and manages what his relatives affirm is dementia, I can see myself in his mind as it meanders and takes his body with it.

Have you never been lost? Have you forgotten the desperation of it?

Or more precisely, I can wonder what is in his mind and hope that he is thinking. Even if dementia has not seized control of the steering wheel, we can sympathize with the enforced powerlessness of being old. Especially if you have never been powerless about any aspect of life.

Dementia is a specific set of brain diseases; not merely old age. A thousand valid scientific observations describe what happens to someone suffering dementia. But almost none examine what the person is thinking. Only Rod Moore can tell you that.

Dementia is observed anguish; the observer merely watches it but does not feel it.

Moore is alone with those thoughts this weekend. He is lost, or perhaps is just gone.

Old people do not necessarily lose the memories that prove they were once proud, fit, and respected members of their town and family just because mental maladies now strip them of their focus.

They are lost.

Police then launch into their Dillinger's Escaped Mode and send Army surplus armored personnel carriers to track down the fugitive.

When these strange, unfortunate plot twists happen to others, you will wonder how you would react if they occurred to you, which they might well do. We might all have our "Dr. Richard Kimball" fugitive moment.

So what if Rod, and several million other elderly Americans, were not only suffering from a specific mental decline, but also just got tired of the life they were living, and left for . . . where? Doesn't make any difference. Just anywhere, as long as it's not here.

Over there cannot be less happy than here.

Two conflicting realities can be true at the same time.

Dementia does not mean your emotions are wrong, but the world rescinds and overrides your right to have them.

We see the effect, but not how chemical changes cause a self-directed, thoughtful mind to intersect with dementia's disconnection.

For unfathomable reasons, humans seem smitten with this irresistible urge to run away at age 3 and carry that desire unabated the rest of their lives. Without this urge, there would be no circuses, mountain climbers or volunteer armies.

I was almost 4 when I ran away the first time. I packed up all my possessions in a big quilted bundle and marched across the street from my home in Boynton Beach, Fla., to my great aunt and uncle's vacation home. The trip was about 100 feet. One small step for man. I had "had it" up to here.

That would become a common theme in my worldview.

I took my 2-year-old brother with me because, really, he could not look out for himself.

We were in our pajamas. There were pictures of the escape.

After a nice lunch, I was returned forcibly across the road to the tyrants and required to express deep, but totally insincere, regrets.

I am always very deeply but insincerely sorry.

At least 20 times over the years, I have repressed the same urge to disappear into the great maw of the cosmos. I was always a flight risk.

Change the plot in your self-novel and be someone else. Not re-create me in another geography, but actually be someone else. Someone better, I hoped.

Buy a motorcycle. And then go. Where? Didn't care. We're jumping bail, and riding like the wind.

Have you not stormed out of the house, slammed the car door shut and drove off to . . . Where? Doesn't make any difference. But you can bet a stiff alcoholic drink will seem a good solution very shortly.

At some moment in these predictable episodes you lose the authority - and the self-identity - to decide what happens next for you. You are old and perhaps clinically demented. Tough luck.

But when you leave, you aren't missing. You're just gone. You left. This happens to dogs, cats, and parakeets all the time. Owners (caregivers?) claim they have "gone missing," but the fugitives know exactly where they are and decided to leave for better owners. Or no owners. They all ran for freedom.

We apply different vocabulary to describe troublemakers rather than freedom seekers.

So a dementia patient apparently loses the dignity even to be a parakeet or Braveheart's William Wallace.

Non-elderly people often leave without warning or clear reason. They know where they are when the episode begins, and why they want to inhabit somewhere else.

Maybe many wandering elderly citizens haven't "gone missing," but they've just gone feral.

Nonetheless, if you have crossed over the generally useless but intrusive Social Security Maginot Line of Presumed Incompetence, some alarmed relative will call the police and blurt that "Grandpa is missing."

If Grandpa and Grandma still are alert and self-aware of any residual degree, they will know this is a humiliation. Old age first and permanently deprives a person of dignity. You raised children, built homes, and conducted professional careers. But now? You must be watched and guarded against your mental feebleness and the threat of embarrassing the family in public.

We try not to be cruel. But we are inadvertently. We are committed to saving the elderly's physical bodies from harm, but not their souls. Those we crush because their lives no longer have a clear meaning.

That reality would make sense that almost anyone should run for safety, or just run away.

This flight trait is so ubiquitous that clinical psychologist Dr. Julie J. Exline studies and writes about even her tendencies to the same urge. One story in Psychology Today detailed a weekend when her planned seminar presentation turned into a random, desperate flight to escape. Where? Didn't matter.

From that experience, she analyzed the components of her flight - the pressure of too many people, too many tasks, too many negative thoughts building a wave. Some people ignore the wave. Others can't.

The mind has a flight instinct, just as your body developed 120,000 years ago when confronted with a saber-toothed tiger. "All I wanted to do was to keep driving," she wrote. "I wanted to keep going, farther into the desert, putting mile after mile between me and everyone else. This desire was so intense, it didn't feel like something I merely wanted; it felt like something I needed. It seemed so urgent, pressing . . . desperate. I had to get away."

She had lost control. She came back eventually but is not entirely sure she shouldn't have kept going. She expressed deep but insincere regret.

I, and thousands of his friends across the nation, hope that can happen with Rod Moore, wherever he is; whoever he is. We hope he is happy, content, and safe. He doesn't even have to say he's sorry.

But mostly I hope he is still the author of his own novel.


Postscript: Three days after we posted this, Rod Moore was found dead.


Recently by David Rutter:

* Kris Bryant's Future Bar Trick.

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* The Week In WTF Redux: Blago Is Back Edition.

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* Dave's French Foreign Legion Tour Of Chicagoland.

* Remember The '85 Bears? Actually, No You Don't.

* On Boredom.


David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on July 5, 2020

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