School is over. Last week I watched some of my students graduate after turning twenty one, the maximum age for people with disabilities to remain in school. Seeing one of them receive an award brought me back to a class discussion a few years ago about a Kathe Kollwitz drawing. It depicts a person swooning, eyes blackened and closed, with sets of hands ready to catch him. I had opened the image on the Smartboard (for anyone who has not been around schools lately, that is a large touch- screen computer monitor at the front of the classroom) and asked for first reactions. It was this student, the award winner, who commented that the person was dying.
“Why do you say he is dying?” I asked, having not thought of that.
“Because there are hands around him. The hands are going to hold him up when he falls.”
She was right, of course. I have always remembered the conversation because I was so surprised at how I had not seen what was happening. Death. Death used to seem a lesser part of my life than it does now. For ten months a year, I spend my days around people with extreme fragility. Fragile bones, fragile lungs, fragile immune systems. We are all fragile, all living on borrowed time. We may appear strong but we are fragile. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We are all ships on a stormy sea. We owe each other a terrible loyalty.” I have nothing against living with a light heart, one which feels fearless and immortal, but no one here gets out alive.
Nowadays I am certain there is no real death. Kathe Kollwitz is alive in her remarkable drawings. She lost her son and her grandson, both named Peter, in successive world wars. I have just ordered her diary and letters to read this summer, and I know she was certain that there is no death, too. I am also certain (please make sense of this in the way you feel comfortable) because Susanna is with me on a daily basis. She can move things, but I will save that for another post. In her way she is especially there when I need her.
A first challenge for me this summer is dizziness. I have both lightheadedness and vertigo. The past few nights I have been awakened by my head spinning, even as I sleep with my eyes closed. There are tests being scheduled and I will search out the reasons with doctors and healers. I am trying to be like the Buddhists might be and accept this feeling as part of my path. I want it to go away. As anything going on in my life that I find displeasing, I would rather it disappear. Some things continually render me powerless. Here on Schoolhouse Earth, I can choose to learn from whatever I do not want to be there. I just read this quote by Salman Rushdie: Vertigo is the conflict between the fear of falling and the desire to fall. Although I am not sure what the fears and dizziness are, I do know I will not be alone if I swoon or fall.