Word Choice

The three-thousand-year-old song is popular in every continent on Earth. Its original tune did not survive the labyrinth of time but not so its lyrics. They are continuously repeated, recited, requested–often on the deathbed. A person may not know its composer, title, or ancient history but can recall without hesitation its opening five words:  “The LORD is my shepherd.” From that fountainhead flow the song’s succeeding lines, which pour consolation, comfort, and courage into  sick, grieving, and hoping hearts.

When individually emphasized, each of these first five words is like an oasis for a specific craving. As the dry and thirsty soul drinks deeply from the particular reservoir, the mind and spirit are uniquely refreshed:

The LORD is my shepherd

Traditionally, “the” is in a special class of adjectives known as articles (a, an, the). Unlike the other two articles, “the” particularizes the noun it precedes. So what’s coming next is not any Tom, Dick, or Harry. It is one of a kind.

The LORD is my shepherd

When someone calls you by your given name instead of  “Miss,” “Sir,” “Ma’am,” “Doc,” “Ladies and Gentlemen,” or such, you have been singled out–personalized. That is what “LORD” (with all caps) is: God’s personal name (not a title). The name “LORD” proclaims, “I am the one and only God from eternity past through eternity future.” The LORD is all in all. Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. Omnibenevolent. All of God’s nature and attributes are embodied in His personal name, LORD.

The LORD is my shepherd

“Is” stands straight and tall, emanating confidence . . . assurance . . . conviction. No doubt about it! Intrinsically strong and ongoing, this verb functions as the middle link in the sentence chain, connecting the two words on either side of it and giving notice that they can flip sides without losing their meanings.

The LORD is my shepherd

“My” gives the heads-up that the song’s theme is personal. In the King James 2000 translation of all six stanzas, the possessive “my” occurs six times, “me” seven times, and “I” four times. By contrast, none of these words appears even once in the oft-repeated Lord’s Prayer, or Model Prayer, that begins “Our Father” and continues the sense of community to the amen. Psalm 23 from beginning to end is me-centered; that is, self in a relationship with LORD. This is a free-will possession. The LORD who possesses all possesses me.

The LORD is my shepherd

My shepherd is the LORD, and I have chosen the LORD to shepherd me all my life–the One who knows the end from the beginning, has all resources at His disposal, knows me by name.

Having rested at the oases, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15 KJV2000) the magnificent Psalm 23.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David
The Shepherd Psalm

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack.

2He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.

3He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The above translation is from the King James 2000 Bible version. Like my father, however, I memorized Psalm 23 from the King James Version of 1611. And that is what I used when I desperately attempted to stem the tide of manufactured mania. Night after night I called Daddy, a helpless victim of overdrugging at the nursing facility 1500 miles away, and we recited together The Shepherd Psalm before bedtime. One dark night my father chose a word that, much to my chagrin, defined his despair:

     . . . When we reached “He restoreth my soul,” my father said, “He restoreth my sanity.” . . .

     Absorbing the magnitude of what Daddy’s mind must be grappling with now, my brain concluded the worst fear of all. He thinks he’s crazy. (pages 62-63 of Before the Door Closes)


Trash Triage

Trash can 2He was sixty-one and at his job when he asked the morning newspaper boy to help him throw it in the dumpster (http://tampa.cbslocal.com/2014/04/03/housing-complex-clerk-mistakes-suicide-jumpers-body-for-april-fools-prank/). The ninety-six-year-old woman’s body hadn’t appeared human. To him she looked like a mannequin. A dummy.

The surgeon made a similar operating assessment when my friend’s father had been ambulanced from a nursing home with a fractured femur. Expecting a routine consult with the doctor prior to surgery, the daughter left the hospital at ten that night and returned at seven the next morning. The minutes ticked by. One by one the heavy hours stacked up. Where was he? Why didn’t he come?

At five-thirty the daughter was beside herself as orderlies wheeled her elderly father out of the room and she caught a glimpse of the doctor. Confronted with her consternation, he explained, “I did not come by because 90 percent of patients with dementia never have anyone with them.”

All too sadly his informed statistic mirrors society’s devaluation of the demented elderly. That 90 percent of them are presented to the medical community as throwaways is a result built family by family. Child by child. Son by son. Daughter by daughter.

What are we thinking? Father doesn’t know who I am? Mother doesn’t remember my name? They don’t know me; so what’s the point?

Why do we make love conditional? Did our parents make it conditional when we did not know their names? when we could not say words? In our helplessness didn’t we sense self-worth through the security of a swaddling blanket, the contentment of cuddling, the soothing sound of a lullaby? They imprinted personal value. We did not have to do anything or be anything except ourselves. Unadulterated.

My father, too, was diagnosed with dementia. His was mania manufactured by the misuse and overuse of antipsychotic drugs. (See http://www.amazon.com/Before-Door-Closes-Daughters-Alcoholic/dp/1490808949/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396716040&sr=1-1&keywords=judith+hall+simon.) My success in getting the mind-altering drugs eliminated did not restore the spark in my father’s voice that had belonged to him before he was made a zombie and cast off as nursing facility waste. I missed hearing that unique part of him the rest of his life.

The drugs, taking their toll, also left my father’s mental function vacillating between clear and unclear. On one of his hazy days, Daddy asked me, “Who are you?”


“That’s what I thought. You’re the one who takes care of me.”

I’ll remember that the rest of my life.


Secret Shame Exposed!

The time had come to expose the family’s secret shame. Daddy is an alcoholic. Although he is now dead, I never stop thinking, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” Probably because I am so much like my father (minus the alcoholism), I never do anything halfway. So I proclaimed the truth to the entire world in my book, Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father.