Sunday, August 18, 2013

Passed on...

Robbie Lewis: He drew that in a mere 60 seconds. It was as if he didn’t even need to look at me, just one glance.

Laura Robson: I’m not a psychoanalyst.

Robbie Lewis: I wasn’t going to quote you in evidence. Just wanted a second opinion. Could the lad be ... I don’t know ... autistic?  Is that the word? I only know what I’ve seen on TV documentaries that I wasn’t watching.

Laura Robson: The trouble is that all these words are dangerous: autism, dyslexia, bipolarity, schizophrenia. We throw people into those boxes and we tell ourselves that we have explained everything and solved the problem. And we’ve done neither.

"And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea," Inspector Lewis (2008)

I have been watching a lot of television shows, to pass the time, to help endure.  And to encounter words.  I miss words.  I miss engaging with them. I miss delving into them.  I miss chewing them over with others. I miss thinking.

I have been watching old shows new to me and newer shows old to me.  Since I gave up cable in my new life of having little, I had to wait on the 7th season of Doctor Who.  When I saw that it was up on Amazon, I decided to re-watch seasons 1-6 to get ready for the new part.  Whilst doing so, I re-watched an episode I saw recently when introducing the show to visitors:  "Vincent and the Doctor."  That episode is one of my favorites.

I believe it is an exquisite exploration of mental illness and art and wonder and acceptance.  In it is one of my favorite quotes.  Amy is devastated when she learned that their time with Vincent Van Gogh and taking him forward to the future so he could see the impact of his work did not keep him from killing himself.  The Doctor tells Amy:

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.  And we definitely added to his pile of good things.  

Two other scenes stand out.  The first is where the Doctor, Amy, and Vincent are all lying in a field looking up at the night sky.  Vincent describes what he sees and in so doing, the night sky is transformed into his painting Starry Night:

Van Gogh: Hold my hand, Doctor. Try to see what I see. We're so lucky we're still alive to see this beautiful world. Look at the sky. It's not dark and black and without character. The black is in fact deep blue. And over there! Lights are blue. And blue in through the blueness, and the blackness, the winds swirling through the air... and then shining. Burning, bursting through! The stars, can you see how they roll their light? Everywhere we look, complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.

The Doctor: I've seen many things, my friend. But you're right. Nothing's quite as wonderful as the things you see.

The second scene is where the Doctor and Amy have taken Vincent to one of his exhibits. The Doctor asks a curator his opinion of Van Gogh and his work, so that Vincent might hear the answer:

The Doctor: I just wondered, between you and me—in a hundred words—where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art?

Dr. Black: Well. Um, big question, um, but to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of color, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world. No one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange wild man who roamed the fields of Provence, was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.

I love the episode because of what I learned about Van Gogh's work, appreciating it in way I had never fathomed I could or would.  I love the episode because of how his mental illness was not covered or lessened or even explained away.  It was a part of his life, his struggle.  Simple.  Matter of fact.  I liked how you were proffered the idea that his mental illness was not a hindrance to his art.  Quite the opposite.

And I loved, too, how hard the art director worked to incorporate Van Gogh's paintings into the sets, so that watching the episode was like walking through his art.  Good stuff.

I think quite a bit about that episode.  Were I still a literacy professor, I would use it in a class or two or three.  The text—visual, oral, expressive—is a great example to explore the transactional theory of reading and secondary worlds.  But I am not ... still a literacy professor.  I am alone with words and struggle to think the things I wish to think.

I think that the quote from Inspector Lewis has layers of meaning.  And the heart of it can be found everywhere.  Dr. Robson's words are, sadly, all too true.

I know someone whose child with special needs was turned down for a spot in her church school.  I know another parent whose child with special needs was turned down for a spot in her church daycare.  The easy response is to say, "We are not equipped to handle your child's needs."

Why not?  I mean, any daycare should expect a certain number of children with special needs.  Any school should as well.  But, as with the world, church run institutions/business reserve the right to refuse service.  No shirt.  No shoes.  No service.

Addiction.  Abuse.  Mental illness.  No service.  Oh, because those labels mean you are the problem of others.  Experts are better equipped to handle your label.

Read the Book of Concord.  All throughout it are references to the anguished soul, the anxious conscience, the burdened, the terrified.  All throughout it are declarations that it is for these the Gospel exists.  They are the ones expected.  Ones to be served, not passed off to experts.

Addicts, abuse survivors, the mentally ill are not merely their labels.  All are the created of our Creator, beloved, and some are the sheep of the Good Shepherd, in need of spiritual care and the service of their neighbors.  Service for which God has equipped them ... with His Word, with the sweet, sweet Gospel.  A Word more powerful than all the sins and ills of this world.  A Word performative, creative, healing, sustaining.

A Word that needs to be heard.  
Again and again and again.  
By all.

By me.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

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