Desperate for company, I turned on the TV to watch 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. The Hawaiian atmosphere seemed soothing after a long day at work. I proceeded to paste Indie Excellence stickers on my stock of Out of Balance books while only listening to the movie as background noise. But halfway through the movie, I couldn’t work anymore. I was captivated by the young woman who lost her short term memory as the result of an auto accident. She could remember everything that happened before the accident, but anything new she only retained for 24 hours. Her mind became a tabula rosa overnight.
Of course, the island’s biggest womanizer, Henry Roth, falls in love with her. Lucy, however, can’t remember him after the first day. Her father, brother, and friends care too much about Lucy to let her be victimized by someone looking for a one night stand without consequences. But Henry is insistent. He endures Lucy’s violent rage when she does not recognize him even after spending the previous day enveloped in his arms, whispering sweet nothings. He believes his love for her will heal her mind. It doesn’t. But he still goes on loving her, knowing he is powerless to fix her.
I identified with Henry. I live with and love a disabled person. I understand the unique challenges of trying to live a normal life while trying to do what’s best for the one you love. Unlike Henry, I am bound by moral and legal obligations. Henry, however, could have any woman he wanted. He chose Lucy. Loving someone deeply always plunges you into the unknown, but loving a disabled person forces you to be breathless and terrified and alive. You become more aware, more creative, more intuitive, more adventurous, because you want to connect with a person who lives in an insular world circumscribed by protective routines. What amazed me most of all was Henry’s willingness to give up his normal life to become part of Lucy’s broken world, a world where he has to struggle every day not only to get her to recognize him, but to win her heart all over again. He battles bad days when she rages against him, throwing lamps and dishes at his head because she thinks he is an intruder in her father’s house. But there are good days, too, where he finds a way to reach out to her and bridge the familiarity of one day with the uncertainty of the next. He even rewrites his dreams to incorporate her into them, because he loves her.
On the other hand, Lucy’s disability comes with its own blessing: she could not remember the sins of yesterday. What freedom comes with that! Imagine your spouse forgetting everything you’ve ever done wrong and falling in love with you for the first time. Now imagine that happening every day for the rest of your life. Incredible. Absolutely incredible, right? There would be no divorce for irreconcilable differences because you would never remember any disharmony in your relationship after a good night’s sleep. There would be no reason for adultery because every day you would be falling in love for the first time. Life would be fresh. Each day we would enjoy a first smile, a first laugh, a first kiss.
Unfortunately, normal people do not live their lives this way. Normal people hold grudges close to the chest as if guarding precious metal. They sink under the weight of their memories. They imagine their lives as a chain of gloomy, dungeon-filled days with people they used to love once, a long time ago, when they were young and stupid, and they only choose to stay together because of moral or legal or financial responsibilities.
But what if everyone was damaged like Lucy? What if our memories were as evanescent as soap bubbles, here one moment and gone the next? Would we be able to stop destroying any chance at love taking root and transforming our lives? Could we drop our expectations of perfection or happily-ever-after or any other fantasy we might entertain? Could we learn to accept our own and each other’s limitations? Could we wake up each morning with the horror of our brokenness and the amazement for our blessings? Could we make our old and tired relationships new?
For underneath all the trappings of social and economical status, we are broken. We want to be loved for who we are by someone who can genuinely love us back. We want to start each day fresh, letting all the mistakes of yesterday dissolve into the nothingness of forgetting. We want to wake up and embrace the ones we love with amazement and gratitude for what we have been given, not with the terror for what has been taken away. The good news is we do not have to lose half our minds to discover the beauty of falling in love over and over again with someone who can accept us as we are, damaged and imperfect, ragged and flawed. We can choose to make each moment the first time, if we are conscious, if we are aware, if we are truly present and alive. We can make all things new.