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After five years, I can finally share such word lore with Paul again. But aphasia still plagues him with its merry dances, and with its occasionally missed adverbs and verbs, its automatically repeated words or phrases. He can’t use a computer, can no longer type, and has trouble reading his own handwriting. So he will always need an assistant.

I can hear Paul shuffling papers at his desk right now, revising a sci-fi novel, Now, Voyager, whose main character 1/8 Humbly has a son named 1/16 Humbly. Apparently one of the characters is the Zoom Queen, a woman who can become unfathomably large or infinitely small depending on her mood. Hmm. Wonder who that could be? In Now, Voyager, the narrator shifts from first to third person, “I” to “he,” and when I asked Paul if this was intentional, he said that he hadn’t noticed. So perhaps the three voices in his head (which appeared soon after the stroke) continue to take turns, or he simply forgets which perspective he’s speaking from.

During his window of heightened fluency in the middle of the day, he can write, stringing together chains of regained words, or make phone calls, or lunch with friends. Not all three; he has to choose. But, to some degree, isn’t that the same for all of us? I can write first thing in the morning, or I can answer a bunch of emails, or I can telephone a friend—I, too, have to choose where to spend my limited packet of mental energy.

This morning, while working in my study, I heard the low whisking rumble of the bedroom door opening, followed by the steps of naked feet, then a tiny clicking which I knew to be the sound of Paul returning his ear stopples to their plastic case. I called to him with a mrok, to tell him where I was—in my bay window—and he mroked back, then appeared at my study door, naked as a wombat.

“Where’s my cantilever of light?” he asked sleepily.

I smiled. This was a new one. “Do you mean… your velour jogging suit?”

“Yes.”

“It’s in the laundry room.”

Why did his brain produce cantilever of light when searching for velour jogging suit? How or why or when might it seem to him a cantilever of light? Cantilevers are rigid, his jogging suit soft. Cantilevers support bridges. Unless he was thinking of his clothes as a bridge to the bright, wide-awake world? That seemed a reach. But the phrase captivated me, and I had to laugh when I realized that we’d been together so long I had instinctively known that cantilever of light meant velour jogging suit. Thank heavens for circumlocution… That dog can hunt.

Amid all the nonsensical verbal puzzles, living with Paul at times feels like living with a koan, one of those paradoxical dialogues, inaccessible to reason, that are taught by Buddhist sages as psychic knots for meditation. Even to begin to interpret a koan one has to shed the cords of logic, bend language, dismiss conceptual ways of thinking, and give oneself over to intuition. Talking with someone who is aphasic, one lives in a similar state of perpetually realizing, of enjoying the aha! moment of insight that comes with solving a verbal puzzle. Like creativity, it invites muscling into the world while simultaneously letting go. His stroke has changed him, but not all for the bad, and it has also changed me.


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