Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not time's fool

It's a summer night, my son is two. I wake up to footsteps running through the house and then the slam of the back door. I leap out of bed and follow. In the backyard he's dancing and whirling under the stars, arms reaching up to them. He looks at me, ecstatic. 'I can see stars, I can see the moon!' he cries.

Fast forward. My son is nine. We've just received news that his uncle in England has died. We haven't seen Derek for six years. My husband, whose brother it is, doesn't know how to feel; they were not close. The rest of us are awkwardly silent. I pick my son up from his friend's place and deliver the news. When we arrive home he flings himself into his father's arms and weeps. He gives his father permission to grieve.

Fast forward. My son is in his late teens and in a very dark and uncommunicative phase. I phone to tell him that the mother of his oldest friend has cancer. He is silent, and then he says simply, 'Tell her. She's been another mother to me. Tell her.' And in those few words I can see him again.
-- Jeanette Kennett of the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University in The Philosophers Zone. She says that what she saw vividly on those occasions was her son "as a valuer."

Kennett continues with an anecdote from Tell me I'm here, an account by Anne Deveson of her schizophrenic son Jonathan, who took his own life at the age of 24. Deveson's last encounter seems to have something of the "abysmal elation" of which Michael Greenberg writes in Hurry Down Sunshine, an account of his daughter's illness, reviewed here by Oliver Sachs. She writes:
I took him to the couch and held him in my arms and stroked his head and kissed his head, and all the while his body was heaving with sobs while he shuddered out disconnected statements like, "I can't go on, the pain in my head. Terrible. Terrible. Look at me. Look at what I've fucking become. Oh God."...

...Jonathan talked for a long time, and I listened. Then there was silence even though the music was frolicking and the crowds chattering. Jonathan's phrasing may have been eccentric, but if you spent time with him and felt your way into what he was saying, it was almost always possible to understand him. I looked up, Jonathan was grinning, with his head on one side. He looked quite old and wise."It was a good try, wasn't it? Thank you for listening, that was very brave of you. People have to learn that underlying business, the message of everything is love. Which is why society sticks together. You and I have love."

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