When the boy was about five, old enough to overhear grown-up conversations, Iris had told him in carefully phrased sentences that she and her husband were not his biological parents. She told him that he belonged to them and that they considered themselves to be his parents just as if he would have been born to them. He had listened to her rehearsed words with an expression of inward contemplation. She had looked at his face while she was speaking, overwhelmed by the insufficiency of her own words, their stupidity even. How was he supposed to know what the term biological parents implied? When she had finished nervously and had braced herself for questions or tear or anger or resent (even though she could find no reason why he should feel resent against them learning that they had taken him in to be their son), he had stayed quiet for a while and they had looked at each other as two grown adversaries would, appraising the other’s strength and resources. Then, suddenly, his face had lost the frozen expression, and he had smiled at her, an overwhelmingly bright smile, and had asked her whether he could go outside to play with the mud people.
If they fullfilled their parental obligation towards him without ever truly finding the kind of love a parent might feel for a child, he did love them as a child loves his parents without contemplating nature, extent or meaning of his love. If he ever felt that he was missing something he never betrayed such a feeling through his behaviour or his words.
Sometimes there was a strained look in his eyes when his father left the room as if he recalled being left behind which of course was impossible as he had only been a few hours old when the custodian had found him. At other times Iris caught him looking at her inquiringly. But whatever question he was expecting her to answer he never put it in words. How could they have suspected that there were moments when sudden terror would overcome him, like a feeling of unmendable loss, how could they have known as those were moments when he was at his quietest, looking at a page in a book, an illustration, a word, waiting for the moment to pass. In time the random words he had stared at when the feeling had overcome him came to stand for the darkness. Solanum tuberosum. Common potatoe. Dampness and desperation. Polygala Alba. Milkworth. Sudden death. The word stood for the thing as much as the thing stood the word, even the spoken word. He saw the lines of letters when these words were spoken, and the letters formed the words in an inexorable logic and the words frightened him. The feeling never lasted for longer than a few seconds, seconds that questioned his whole existence and spelled extinction. It was not in his nature to display even this intense fear, he was separated from it as if it happened to another person, and the stillness in his own heart prohibited to revolt against the stranger who took over a five year old to feel what the child would have had no reason to feel himself. Unless memory holds those first few dramatic hours when it is decided whether we shall live or die before knowing even our parents. It was as if he had to carry a glass full of water without spilling a single drop – he literally held his breath while he lived ever so carefully. Only that he didn’t hold a glass but that it was himself who contained something that he was afraid to spill by sudden movement.
Maybe it was his composure that made it so difficult to love him. It didn’t help that he was completely self sufficient. Or that he did not seem to be aware of the extent of their generosity in accepting him as their son. And as it is difficult to love what is complete in itself and beyond the need for protection, it is equally challenging not to resent the person, even a child, who receives a gift with an air of leisure acceptance. He certainly did not behave as if they owed him any care but it was as if he accepted the gift of their being his parents as a favour and generosity towards them.
«But after all», Iris wrote in her journal «isn’t it quite normal that children are not grateful for their existence, and isn’t it indeed true that they are a gift to their parents? » And yet it felt as if there was a mistake in her observation. If there were none of the disturbances children will cause willfully or by the pure fact of their existence, there was little laughter either. Disturbances of the kind that children cause shake the core of life and make it vibrant. The average child will break the rules, not keep them, and this unwillingness to obey rules as much as it may annoy and exhaust a parent lies the true reason for love. We cannot love what follows us blindly, in our hearts we want to be reminded that there is life outside the prison of our self imposed rules. We do want to laugh at ourselves and at the world that we have build and have considered good while we knew better. And yet it is almost impossible to admit not to love someone due to the fact that they are – perfect.
Sendak has been most influential as an artist and illustrator to my work but even before that his wild things encouraged me to be WILD when I was little and to STARE into peoples’ eyes and tell them ‘BE STILL” when they were showing their terrible claws and rolling their terrible eyes. I still love his obnoxious, headstrong creatures who cut through all the embellishments, the sugar-coating, the lies about the children’s’ lives, and I admire his life-long refusal to deliver educational commonplaces to kids. I LOVE HIS WILD THINGS. I LOVE HIS PIGS. I LOVE MAX. Thank you, Maurice, KING of WILD THINGS!
reality is a shaky concept, really. if you have ever tumbled down the rabbit hole and come out to tell the tale you know. death and dreaming, and life, again. a circus show, your contribution an act of supreme will and despair, beauty, ten minutes of it. not more. then darkness. a cheap trick, a great, cheap trick. chapeau! i see your face in it and mine and lightning. darkness. a deck of playing cards, discarded bottle caps, laughter. and darkness. if you play it well it’s a game you are destined to loose gracefully. and bow. final curtain. glitter, flaky make-up and fading colors.too much of it to be tasteful, hopefully. then darkness. so glad i didn’t set out to win, or else i would not have kept company with you. chapeau.a rabbit in a waistcoat.a silver time piece. and darkness.
The little Gargoyle was sitting, the last of his kind, still as usual, listening to the faint sound of human voices from down below that the wind today seemed to be determined to carry in another direction. The Gargoyle sighed. Many days now he sat unmoved by the simple signs of social life the parish displayed on the little stage of his vision field. Sometimes he thought about the times when the others had contributed to his own observations with descriptions of what they could see. They all had had places of much greater exposition and had enjoyed a better view of the human spectacle down below. His own place in the shadows of the rear entrance suited the much less elaborate work that the artist had employed by carving him, basically not intending much more than creating a somehow sophisticated rainspout.
One might have thought that his first decades of existence must had been filled with envy or humiliation as his far more artistically executed companions had not failed to point out the aesthetic and social difference that clearly existed between his own simple self and their proud display. The truth was though that his nature was as simple and good willing as his face and that he had always preferred listening to talking and had been glad of their companionship despite their arrogance. Over time as boredom had led to an increasing tendency to quarrel among the more prominent members of the little society they chose him to confide in when their antagonists were drifting off to sleep, a deep, dreamless sleep, not unlike death, but the little gargoyle – clearly a failure in this respect as well as in his aesthetic execution – unable to retrieve his thoughts had been sitting alert and looking out into the night waiting for another morning that should restore his companions to him.
When they were all finally hovering quietly in their respective darkness he had often asked himself if the stonemason had known that he had been awakening the stone with his hammers and chisels and had he known would he still have chosen to give life and then abandon his creation? The little gargoyle of course had the patience and endurance of all stone creatures and one night, one week, one month of silence meant little to him. But he found that by never being able of sleeping he had lost some of his countenance, his stone nature, and during his long nights of silent thoughts while the others where embedded in an enviable state of coma had developed an inner life that didn’t seem quite suitable for a simple gargoyle.
Often, on late summer nights my mother, my sister and I laid down flat on the lawn of our front yard and looked down into the stars. The grass of our lawn was long and wavy, different from the short cut golf course front lawns of our neighbors, and woven through with moonflowers that smelled lovely in the warm, damp night air and in their whiteness actually glowed like little stars themselves. I remember one night when I felt particularly light and small, and grateful to gravity for holding me securely to the surface of my own planet. The stars glittered in the distant depth. My mother giggled when she noticed that my little sister had fallen asleep right there on the lawn, her head nestled onto my mother’s shoulder. Suddenly it seemed so unlikely to me that in all of the universe expanding before my eyes our planet should be the only one with life on it. I asked my mother, who had been silently holding my hand whether she thought that there was life out there. My voice sounded like a whisper. It was the kind of question to which you don’t really expect an answer.
My Mother took my hand and pointed down at the three stars of the belt of Orion. “Your fist like this”, she said, “covers about 10 degrees of the night sky.” She moved my hand slowly over the dark water and spoke in her methodical way, no use to interrupt her. “20 degrees south-east of the belt of Orion, you see, there is the brightest star in the night sky, right in the constellation of Canis Major.” She waited for a moment for me to catch up with her. Our entwined hands travelled over the night sky and stopped. And there it was, deep underneath us, the brightest star of the night sky, as far as I could see. “Do you see this star?” she asked. “It is called Sirius. It is 23 times more luminous than our sun, twice the mass and the diameter of the sun. It is only 8.5 light years away.” The way she said “only 8.5 light years”, it sounded as if she was talking about a Sunday picnic destination. It sounded like: We could take the bike. It’s only 8.5 light years away. Before I had a chance to point that out to her, however, she had started talking again, and almost without warning, though in answer of my question, switched from her facts, from degrees between two points of light in the celestial sphere, luminosity and brightness, and mass of celestial objects, to a startling revelation: “My grandfather, your great-grandfather, believed that there is life in the Sirius system. The Dogon, an African tribe with very acute astrological knowledge, have believed for centuries that there is life out there as have the ancient Egypts and the Sumerians. According to the Dogon Sirius is accompanied by two other stars, a very small and incredibly dense star they call Po Tolo, which means “very little star”, and which modern astrology has confirmed to exist only recently and calls Sirius B. Indeed it has turned out to be a small star with an incredible density, heavier than the iron we know on earth. The Dogon also claim that the other star in the Sirius-System is lighter and larger than Sirius. They call it Emme Ya. And around Emme Ya they say there orbits the home planet of the Nommos, the children of Sirius and Emme Ya.“
If Einstein’s insight into the insufficiency of the classical model of wave lengths to explain to his own experimental observations had anything to teach an average mind then it surely was that you have to look and consider what you see yourself and let not the explanation that others provide you with be in your way.