Our foyer at DCU faces out toward two buildings that have enough breathing room between their parallel structures to create a diagonal sliver. Through that sliver, I normally just see the street—compromised by cars lurching over pesky speed bumps—and the sidewalk—a steady stream of students, almost all with headphones, lost in separate worlds and in this one. Perpendicular to the road and sidewalk stands a row of flowers—mostly golden with speckled brown at their center as if they gained their gold by way of the sun but the centers got too drunk on its rays and burnt themselves.
It was through this diagonal sliver, occupied with an inconsequential essay on cyber terrorism, that the backdrop of annoyed drivers faded, I lost sight of the lost teens, and in their place I found a mother wheeling her child.
Her son, body contorted in a fossilized way, not by preference, but as an arbitrary physical byproduct of the genealogical lottery, sat in his chariot. His mom slowed the stroll to a stop and gazed upon the hedges: An upward stretch at the curves of her mouth, a forward lean, a gentle caress, and a compassionate pluck that said, “from one mother to another, I hope you’ll understand if I take this.” She then sank down three elevator floors and placed nature’s child under her own’s nose. By my superficial estimate, his gaze remained unflinchingly forward, his demeanor unchanged, but the atmosphere, my world, buckled. Knees weren’t weak; they were non-existent. Without will, a tear, then two, then three—not from her or him but from me.
I shared this snapshot with another Mitchell, a friend, who replied:
“I think the most powerful parts are where you describe how you are understanding your developing emotionality in the moment—the parts you’ve written about the observed scene are beautifully rendered, but I worry that they risk flattening the complex, whole person you saw to their disability, which is a common problem faced by people with disabilities. It may be worthwhile to explore phrasings that (a) acknowledge the limits of your understanding of their experience, and (b) builds upon/taps into the emotional vulnerability that makes this piece strong.”
“(F)lattening the complex” stuck with me. I acknowledge my ironing of the situation. All communication requires some extent of ironing, right? Our attempts to communicate resembles taking a piece of our continuous stream of gift-wrap sentiment and folding it in such a way as to convey the contours of our understanding. Side note: I still have trouble with tidy tucks at the corners. Knowing this, I forfeit any attempt to communicate my Mitchell experience. I am deciding not to flatten the wonderfully complex year that was.
After she held the flower under his nose, she leaned forward, caressed his head, placed a cherry of a kiss atop her sundae and strolled on.
As do I, as do the other Mitchells, and as do we all.
Here’s to our replacements,