Just a day or so ago, a dear, much-admired friend wrote me an e-mail, a work of real honesty, hard to achieve in this difficult situation. She said, But it is you who my thoughts are for and why I find it difficult to write. Of course one does not know what one’s reactions will be when upsets happen, but I fear my reaction to all this would be rage. Anger at what can’t be reversed. Anger at feeling trapped. Anger at a dear spouse, however undeserved. And just plain old undirected anger, perhaps at helplessness and the tragedy of shattered hopes and plans.
She’s certainly right that one does not know what one’s reactions will be in situations like this, so I’m actually rather surprised to find that my own reaction seems to be entirely different. I can’t find the anger anywhere, just anguish when it seems to be so difficult for Brooke and when I see his whole big body stretched out motionless on the bed. It’s true that what’s happened can’t be reversed. And I suppose there’s a sense in which I’ll be trapped, though to tell the truth I’m sort of looking forward to a less frenetic, less globe-trotting, quieter home-based life. Anger at a dear spouse, however undeserved? I know this is an entirely natural reaction, but it is working just the other way—there’s room for oddly greater emotional intimacy at a deeper level than before, and I’m grateful for this, not angry, even if the reasons for it are so painful. And plain old undirected anger? I suppose one could be angry at the universe for being so unfair, but it doesn’t seem unfair, it just is, and since we’ve been so much luckier in life than so many people, it hardly seems unfair, except in that Brooke has to pay the whole price.
But even if I haven’t been reacting (yet?) in the same way that this wonderfully honest friend says she thinks she might, I think the range of reactions to Brooke’s situation must be hugely varied—anger, pity, horror, fear for oneself, grief, mute numbness, awe at the irreversibility of misfortune. What I keep remembering so vividly is that the image of Brooke’s quadriplegia hurts every one of you who cares about him, not just me, and I wish there were a way to sit with each of you to touch, to respect that wound.
But there is some good news today as well. The first is about food: we’ve finally taken him some pureed and mashed foods cooked by friends, not by the hospital—a butternut squash soup, a homemade paté, an Indonesian-flavored chicken soup, a bit of lasagne from Cucina, and more. All the swallowing problems seem to be evaporating: he is wolfing stuff down. So if you’re cooking something good that can be pureed or mashed, feel free to take a tiny little dish of it to him or leave it by our side door! No more hospital macaroni and cheese? Actually, there’s a medical reason to do this: it is claimed that success in weaning from the ventilator is associated with good nutrition, and it is clear that his nutritional status will be way better if he has food he really wants to eat.
The second bit of good news is about motion. At the end of The Winter’s Tale, what Leontes believes is a statue of his long-dead wife Hermione begins to awake, to come to life. Today, in a left arm that has been as motionless as a statute for a full six weeks, Brooke was able to move his thumb, arc his fingers ever so slightly, move his hand just slightly forward and then justly slightly backward on command. It is crucial not to race to conclusions about the whole statue awakening just like Hermione and we all know that Brooke will always have immense impairments, but just the same the sort of sense of amazement that Shakespeare conveys is there when you see his long-dead hand start ever so slightly to come to life. Here’s the passage; this is one of Brooke’s favorite passages in all of Shakespeare. That his own hand should “be stone no more” is something we can “look upon with marvel.”
Quit presently the chapel, or resolve you
For more amazement. If you can behold it,
I'll make the statue move indeed, descend
And take you by the hand; but then you'll think--
Which I protest against--I am assisted
By wicked powers.
What you can make her do,
I am content to look on: what to speak,
I am content to hear; for 'tis as easy
To make her speak as move.
It is required
You do awake your faith. Then all stand still;
On: those that think it is unlawful business
I am about, let them depart.
No foot shall stir.
Music, awake her; strike!
'Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach;
Strike all that look upon with marvel. Come,
I'll fill your grave up: stir, nay, come away,
Bequeath to death your numbness, for from him
Dear life redeems you. You perceive she stirs:
HERMIONE comes down
Start not; her actions shall be holy as
You hear my spell is lawful: do not shun her
Until you see her die again; for then
You kill her double. Nay, present your hand:
When she was young you woo'd her; now in age
Is she become the suitor?
O, she's warm!
If this be magic, let it be an art
Lawful as eating.