On the Minnesota Test for Diffferential Diagnosis of Aphasia, a test used to measure language skills after a stroke or brain injury, one of the questions elicits a short language sample: Name 3 things a good citizen should do. The best response I ever received was, “Vote, pay taxes and delight your wife.”
Gene M. was one of my first “official” patients after I completed my speech therapy training in 1986. He was receiving treatment for liver cancer but a stroke unexpectedly added to a growing list of health problems. Even though he died 23 years ago,he remains one of my favorite patients of all time. When I met him, I was captured by his personal energy, and among other attributes, his incredible grasp of the 3 pillars of conscietious living: vote, pay taxes and delight your wife.Here is what I learned from Gene about each one of these:
Vote: We all had the privilege of voting for a new president this past November. Gene thought it was “crazy” to pass up the opportunity to be heard. Likewise, he felt it was important to support whoever was in office regardless of personal political leanings. He knew the names of all of the presidents and he never scoffed in disrespect about any of them. His personal favorite was Abraham Lincoln and by the time we finished our therapy relationship, I had read 3 large books about Lincoln all from Gene’s personal “presidential library.” He had a reverence for the Office of President that would be considered absurdly out of style by today’s standards. While our new president, Barrack Obama is enjoying considerable popularity now, I would not be the least bit surprised if some faction seeks to discredit him before too long. In fact, if I may borrow one of my late grandmother’s famous sayings, “Why if (Gene) were alive today, he would be turning over in his grave” if he knew that all Presidents these days eventually end up in some sort of scandal, real or made-up.
Pay Taxes: I hate taxes and our family pays a lot of them. Apart from the physical act of forking over the money to the government, each year I am in charge of collecting and tabulating the tax documents for the tax accountant. My memories of the sheer torture of this task go way back to the days when my dad would put on a pot of coffee at night, and we would all head for the hills while he did the taxes (damn it!). I do some form of this dance myself every year and I hate it, hate it, hate it. The tax system is complicated and screwy. That being said though, Gene was right about this too. Even though it feels unfair at times, evading a tax obligation is immoral especially in America where we have the right to vote, influence laws, and protest legally.
Delight Your Wife: Of the 3 pillars, Gene was a master at this one. Even though both he and his wife had significant health problems, the love and laughter that bound this couple together was palpable when they entered the room. One of the gifts of working with them was to witness love, pure and simple, that persisted despite illness and in the case of Gene, significant language impairment due to his stroke. Much of the time, his words in no way resembled what he was really trying to say. Let’s just say there was an “art” to understanding his word salad. Under such conditions, many people refuse to talk and relationships become strained. But Gene delighted his wife until the very end! He laughed at himself when he made mistakes, held the door for her even though one side of his body was weakened from the stroke, and interacted playfully with her even though his medical condition was poor and getting worse.
When I gave Gene the language test, I thought he was being funny when he asserted that good citizens “voted, paid taxes, and delighted their wives.” Afterall, someone with a language impairment can say all kinds of unusual things. Nevertheless, he lived like he meant what he said. I guess it came as no surprise to me when I learned he was born on the 4th of July.