Epic & Lyric (#544)
16 December 2006
When I think of life with Charlie in Autismland, it sometimes seems like an epic, other times on the smaller scale of a lyric poem.
Epics are long poems written on grand subjects---the founding of a nation (Virgil's Aeneid), war (Homer's Iliad), a journey involving adventures (Homer's Odyssey)---and on a grand scale about heroes and bold deeds done and undertaken. Lyric poems are often written in the first-person and can be about a single moment in time, a single thought or idea, a feeling, like any of Sappho's poems (poem 1 a prayer to Aphrodite, goddess of love; poem 31, an expressing of envy and jealousy).
I have compared life in Autismland to an epic poem before, and compared my efforts to "translate" the fragment syllables of Charlie's speech to how one deciphers a fragmented text of Sappho's poetry. Because raising Charlie seems to pull the Big Questions out on a daily basis: What will happen to him when Jim and are gone? Will he be able to take care of himself---to remember to brush his teeth or wash his clothes? Will he find a job? Will he learn how to read beyond a list of sight words taught singly and reviewed over, over, and over?
These questions can be critiqued as my mind racing ahead to a future I am overly worrying about; as me engaging in some rather catastrophic thinking of my own. So many every day activities---going shopping, or learning to write the letters of the alphabet---can seem to take on epic proportions in Autismland. And when I find my mind racing to think of those Big Questions and pondering a future no one can predict, I tend to step back and focus on the here-and-now, on the simple and concrete right in front of me, on the single moments such as are conveyed in a lyric poem.
It became apparent this week that Charlie has been associating, or rather equating, going to the grocery store with getting sushi. After Tuesday's mall "adventure," I thought it would be good to practice going to the store and not getting sushi. The three of us went after emphasizing what we were going to get ("oranges! chocolate!") rather than focusing on what we were not going to (as in "not getting sushi"). We walked around the different parts of the store; Charlie spooned several chunks of watermelon into a plastic container, chose a pack of chocolate soy pudding, and was quietly walked by the sushi counter with eyes big.
Just as Jim and I were exchanging looks of "that went well" in the check-out line, two women started to unload their cart, the first item being.......a huge party-pack of sushi ("epic" size, if you will). Charlie pushed his way over to stare at it and Jim and I quickly said, "It's someone else's!" He moved slowly away after awhile and was soon eating the watermelon while standing atop the heater vent in our house (for a combined sensory experience: cold melon, warm air).
Seeing Charlie peaceful and easy after making it through the grocery store without getting sushi was a sweet moment of delight in and of itself, just as much as later it was to behold Charlie swimming at the YMCA pool, like poetry in water as his shoulders hump and hunch and droplets shimmer on his upturned face as he backfloats. Arms above his head, Charlie held his body in the long line of a column----the real boy form of those karyatids---those maiden-shaped columns---on the Erechtheion in Athens---and sank slowly to the bottom of the pool.
Joy and delight and sparkling loveliness.
A Sappho poem almost has the same beauty as Charlie (the hero of this Autismland epic) swimming in the pool.