Sunday, May 18, 2014

summing up

My friend has written me again, attempting to sum up his recent experiences:

What I think I've learned in trying to communicate with my father, is the importance of emotion.
Now, this is a dangerous subject because I may fall into the trap of repeating, as a sort of advocate, the claim that we undervalue emotion in our culture.

That would be a true thing to say, but it is too imprecise for my purposes.

So, I shall try to approach the subject a bit differently. What makes a person a person? What makes our human persons be what we are? And, how can a person who is largely helpless still be a person?

A person—that means enough like you and me that s/he deserves what we deserve, respect and help .
What I've seen with my father is that his basic emotional ties are all in place. I think that diagnoses get it all wrong when they fault him for messing with chronological time, not knowing where he is, and so on. That's all merely the book-keeping of the workplace. And the workplace is, mostly, anti-democratic, mind-numbing, and soul-crushing. (The irony is that my father loved his job, but was forced to retire in his mid-forties after a bad car accident.)

If you are at all familiar with Milan Kundera, there is a story where a man imagines the world of his elderly mother—a world where a pear is enormous and a Russian tank is small. I think K wanted to recognize that this elderly mother's world is truthful, and I want to say something similar about my father's world.

My father's emotional connections are rich and lively. That part of him is not dead. However, it takes a sensitive audience to nourish that very real connection with reality. And, a sterile hospital-atmosphere is precisely what kills that. And, insofar as one is focused-- responsibly-- on helping him with his very real needs, one runs the risk of neglecting that other, very real part of him. I have seen him twice on Skype now, since his return from the three-week isolation chamber called Rehabilitation. He has lost skills he used to have. At night, he has difficulty sleeping and experiences, once again, the fear he felt when he was isolated. He had his share of solitary confinement thanks to the ignorance of a system that was never designed to see him as a person.

I recently came across a study in a nursing journal that recommends that care-givers sing along with their patients. I did something like that with my father during the time I was home. (2009-2012) By chance, I found old songs and movies on Youtube that belonged to my parents' generation, and for me to see the real pleasure it brought to them was a rare gift. It showed me what is possible for them, members of the category “frail elderly”. Their lives need not be filled with fear and anxiety.
They can be glad to be alive. That is really not too much to ask. And it has made me unforgiving of anyone who wittingly or not takes away from them such a basic components of human happiness, something which is not expensive and is not by nature scarce---though our system of social organization seems designed to make it so.

That kind of emotional connection takes time, and is not suited to the time-management approach of institutions.

What I think now, as I write you, is the problem we face is that we don't understand the human mind, and we view it through lenses tinted by our oppressive institutional structures. We don't see the world through the lenses offered by art, poetry, dance--those emotional worlds which nourish a part of us that is flexible and open, sad and hopeful at the same time. Instead we insist on framing ourselves through the closeted darkness of profit and social hierarchy.

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