Friday, May 4, 2012

Imagine that

“Put your hand here,” I direct as we stand outside Westminster Abby. “Where?” Tony asks. “Here.” I say, continuing, “Think about it. In 1066, another man likely had his hand on this very spot as he helped build this place. Who was he? What did he look like? Did he have red hair? Was he kind to his wife? Did he have kids? Do you think that guard over there is distantly related?”

Tony shakes his head responding, “How would I know?” “Don’t you think it is interesting to imagine?” I ask. “Not really,” Tony responds, dismissing the question. He is far more interested in how this monumental cathedral was constructed without the benefit of modern tools. He sees the math of the structure, but not the art, he hears the history, but has little interest in imagining the story. He is literal; I am abstract. I wonder if he has any imagination.

But I am wrong to wonder.

I wake to an alarm set for 2 AM in the dead of winter. “Get up.” I hear. “Nooooo,” I respond.  “It’s too early. It’s toooooo cold!” But Tony insists I come. He hands me boots and a heavy coat to put over my pajamas. We head out to the icy January cold to a telescope set up on the pond. There, completely alone in the vast darkness of the sky he reminds me it is the perfect night for viewing Saturn and its rings. Or was it Jupiter and its moons? I mostly remember the beauty of the night and the way his face lit up as he introduced me to the sky.

There are subsequent visits to this spot: I see moons and rings, dead stars, twin stars and constellations, and learn how to find the North Star. “The very first stars you see at night aren’t stars.” Tony explains. “They are likely planets. The one with the slight pink tinge is Mars. The very bright one low in the sky at dusk is Venus. It disappears into the horizon long before morning.” 

I ask, “Do you think there is life out there?” “Could be,” Tony says, “You never know.” And goes on to explain certain basic conditions are necessary to sustain life. He talks how he once dreamt of working for NASA and building childhood rockets and spacemen. And I see in him an imagination big as the sky.

Still later, the word autism enters our vocabulary. “What does it mean?” I ask. Well, many things I am told. One statement in particular stands out: a lack of imaginative play.

“Ring-ring” says Sam one afternoon months later. I echo, “ring-ring?” Immediately Sam smiles and grabs a banana to his ear. Knowing my line I follow with, “No, Sam can’t come to the phone right now, he’s too busy.” Since I don’t have a banana to talk into, Sam hands me his. When the banana is eaten, he talks into his shoe. “Mommy. Talk,” he directs. Feeling a little like Maxwell Smart, I pull off my shoe and say my line. Sam smiles, satisfied I understand the game.

I watch him draw imaginative swirls and figures “What are you drawing?” I ask. “Windows” he says. His windows are bright and almost surreal, surrounded by many colorfully intricate shapes.  Abruptly he switches to another drawing. Again I ask, “What is it?” “Snowflake” he says without stopping or looking up. And within the billows and details I see it: a snowflake like no other. I watch his deliberation as he chooses his colors and ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” “From your imagination,” Sam scripts from an old Elmo video. He pauses to clarify, “Is in your head.”  

Today I search for an idea and my imagination is hopelessly lost.

And then I remember these moments and know: It’s in the giant bolder in a far away place or up in the sky; it’s in a passing snowflake or a in box of crayons. It’s in my shoe or just beyond the window. It surrounds me. I just need to lift my head and look around.

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  1. Beautifully written. Interestingly, I was just up reading about another Abby built during this time period.

    1. Thank you. They are amazing structures, aren't they.