According to Albert Einstein, "Imagination ... is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
It was late afternoon when my doorbell rang. I peeked carefully out the window and there stood a clean-cut young man. I thought, "Uh oh, a magazine salesman," but something moved me to open the front door anyway.
"Hi, My name is Mikhail." He turned slightly to point behind him at the sidewalk steps leading up onto the walkway to our front porch. "I've long admired those steps and I'm wondering if it would be all right to stand on them next Saturday when I propose to my girlfriend?"
"Whaat?" That wasn't what I'd expected him to say. Far from it! "You want to propose on the steps leading up to our walkway?" Had I heard correctly? This was a first!
"Yes, ma'am. I'm wondering if I might propose on your steps." He patiently repeated his request. Our unusually wide steps do have a unique finish, stencil-painted to resemble red brick.
The conversation continued, and he shared his vision for this joy-filled surprise. While a photographer would be hiding beneath the drooping branches of a nearby over-sized pine tree, he'd walk by our house around dusk with his girlfriend, stop on our steps and pop the question.
Near twilight on the following Saturday, I wondered aloud exactly what time Mikhail and his girlfriend might actually appear on our steps. My husband and I were in the kitchen beginning dinner preparations, but every minute or so, one of us peeked through our mini-blinds in the dining room. I certainly didn't want to miss the magic unfold! About 5:40, my husband said, quietly, "They're here." I set aside the vegetables I was chopping and moved quickly into the other room. We stood side-by-side in the shadows, watching silently. The young man and his intended faced each other at the top of the steps beside our lamppost. Reaching for my husband's hand, I gave it a squeeze, remembering when he proposed to me years ago. He glanced down at me, smiled, put his arm around me and kissed the top of my head.
I wondered how many times this beautiful young woman might have imagined this moment. The young man bent down on one knee, and from his pocket, pulled out and opened a small box. Gazing upward, he held the box toward her and grasped her hand. She stared back and I imagined him speaking those extraordinary words ... will you marry me? Standing then, the two of them embraced. Moments later, they turned, and holding hands, walked slowly down our steps and off into their future. What might they now be imagining for their future? I found myself hoping, like Walt Disney says, "may all your dreams come true." We never learned her name and haven't seen them again. However, the scene lingers in my mind. Where I had only seen steps, this young man had imagined something else.
My husband and I are long past that beginning. Our imaginings have shifted. Shifted to the other end, as each day we feel the tick of time. Today I can more fully imagine there will be an end and I draw one day closer with every sunrise. What can I imagine for my future? Will one of us leave the other behind? I do not like to imagine this possibility. For whatever time remains, I like to imagine a robust future. I also imagine clarity of thought. After what I've experienced, is that even rational? My dad had Parkinson's-related dementia and my mom, both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. If my future holds only cloudy memories eventually fading into the darkness of no memories, what do I imagine for that life?
I console myself, remembering both my parents still imagined, even through this bitter disease. At various times, Dad imagined me to be his "Aunt." Which aunt, I'll never know. Whenever I asked him "Aunt Who?" he simply looked at me with his sweet smile. He imagined his white Chrysler LeBaron was parked out front of the memory care facility. "It's time to go home now. Where are my keys?" Mom imagined other memories. "Oh, your dad and I were so lucky! We traveled everywhere and saw everything." Sometimes they imagined the past and sometimes they simply imagined. Either way, they appeared content with their "memories" and imagination eased a difficult journey. In nearly 72 years of marriage, had all of their dreams come true? Maybe they had ... if only in their imagination.
If my fate is tied to that of my parents, I wish for an abundance of imagination. While many of my dreams have come true, if someday I no longer remember them, it is of little consequence. No matter my reality, whether imagining my children are right outside playing on the swing set in our backyard, or my husband and I are visiting the Eiffel Tower, or perched atop an ostrich in South Africa, I believe an abundance of imagination will ease my transition through a devastating disease and into the next realm.
If you visit me when I'm preparing to enter that next realm, will you humor me, should I ask if you're enjoying Egypt as much as I am?
Viereck, George Sylvester (October 26, 1929). "What life means to Einstein: an interview." The Saturday Evening Post.