perfection and love

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.

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