"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

28 June 2008

Home Sweet Home

All I can say is, it's really, really good to be home.

Thanks to all for the prayers and encouragement.

19 June 2008

Just Sensible

Found while working cryptograms today:

"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing." --William James

Hmmm . . . so my lack of a sense of humor means I also lack common sense?

03 June 2008

“The Parthenon and the Optative”

C. S. Lewis opens his essay by the above title (which I found in his collection On Stories) with a remark from “a grim old classical scholar” as he was marking college entrance exams: “The trouble with these boys is that the masters have been talking to them about the Parthenon when they should have been talking about the Optative.”

Lewis then explains what is meant by the two terms as symbols of two types of education: “The [Optative] begins with hard, dry things like grammar, and dates, and prosody; and it has at least the chance of ending in a real appreciation which is equally hard and firm though not equally dry. The [Parthenon] begins in ‘Appreciation’ and ends in gush. When the first fails it has, at the very least, taught the boy what knowledge is like. He may decide that he doesn't care for knowledge; but he knows he doesn't care for it, and he knows he hasn't got it. But the other kind fails most disastrously when it most succeeds. It teaches a man to feel vaguely cultured while he remains in fact a dunce. It makes him think he is enjoying poems he can't construe. It qualifies him to review books he does not understand, and to be intellectual without intellect. It plays havoc with the very distinction between truth and error."

He goes on to discuss the purpose of examinations: “to find out whether the boy had read his books. It was the reading, not the being examined, which was expected to do him good.” They are not to determine if his soul has been touched, if he sufficiently appreciates literature and is moved by it. These things cannot be tested – but if the student does the reading well, then “[a]t best he may have learned [. . .] to enjoy a great poem. At second best he has done an honest work and exercised his memory and reason. At worst, we have done him no harm [. . .].”

His final paragraph addresses the laments of people who claim they would have loved poetry if they’d never had to take exams over it. “It is theoretically possible,” Lewis muses. “Perhaps they would by now have been saints if no one had ever examined them in Scripture. Perhaps they would have been strategists or heroes if they had never been put into the school OTC. It may be so: but why should we believe that it is. We have only their word for it; and how do they know?”

I think I shall have to place this essay before my students . . .

My favorite line, though, is this: “I am not sure that the best way to make a boy love the English poets might not be to forbid him to read them and then make sure that he had plenty of opportunities to disobey you.” Definitely a man who knew human nature!

01 June 2008

Love is . . .

“Love is what you go through with someone” – James Thurber

Unknown saints quietly work their magic in homes across the country, often exhausted and sad and frustrated, but choosing to love and care for those whose lives have been bound up with theirs, despite often being misunderstood, lashed out at, and finally not recognized at all. They are the loving and tireless caretakers of spouses, siblings, or parents with dementia.

I hate that word, “dementia.” It has such strong connotations of insanity, and yet it is not really insanity as we think of it in popular culture. True, the person with dementia is “out of his mind” to the eye of the observer; but the causes are solely, purely physical: there is as yet no hope of recovery from use of medication, and – because there is no psychological element – there can never be hope of help from psychiatric treatment. I would just say “Alzheimer’s,” which doesn’t have those connotations, but all dementia is not Alzheimer’s, as my father’s is not; different causes exist, and the progression is not exactly the same, and it seems to matter to be precise.

“Vascular Cognitive Impairment” is his condition: dementia caused by a long series of “mini-strokes” – TIAs – that in themselves don’t leave the kind of lasting damage of a major stroke (the typical loss of muscle use, for example, on one side of the body), but over time damage the brain so that dementia occurs. (They are also likely precursors to a major stroke, of which my grandmother, Daddy’s mother, died when she was 90; Daddy will be 89 this summer.)

Dementia begins slowly – perhaps a struggle with numbers or more forgetfulness than comes with normal aging. But its progression is inexorable, and it is surely one of the most painful processes to watch a loved one endure. The puzzled look of a spouse who doesn’t seem to know you; questions like “Do we have any children?”; remarks about “my first wife” when you have been married for 63 years . . . The anger and frustration when you must take away the car keys or insist on a certain diet or give reminders to eat slowly or use the bathroom . . . The fear and sadness and shame in his or her eyes . . . The knowledge that this man or woman you love will never be better, and only worse is to come . . .

And yet these saints who suffer in seeing their loved ones suffer continue to love, to remember what was and to assure dignity despite the loss of return. They learn to speak patiently, to bring beauty, to give respect, to elicit laughter as often as possible. They know that love is not what they receive, but what they give, and they give without reservation. When they are weary and longing for a good night’s sleep, they rise without complaint to help a spouse to the bathroom; when they are berated, they give a hug and set aside the unintended hurt; they never fail to say “I love you” again and again, to offer the reassurance of speech and touch so desperately needed by the one who is losing his or her understanding and grasp of reality.

I stand humbled before these quiet, unknown saints and pray that I may learn from them the grace of giving.