5. What Love Has Got To Do With It
Andrew Solomon’s “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search For Identity” explores the experiences of parents who have found themselves caring for children quite different from themselves, due to disability and diagnosis. In chapters with one-word titles (including “Son,” “Dwarfs,” “Schizophrenia,” “Prodigies,” ‘Rape,” “Transgender,” “Father”), Solomon writes of people struggling, physically, psychologically, spiritually, to accommodate their lives and themselves to children who are often profoundly different from themselves; to a daily reality they had never imagined.
As a mother of a teenage autistic son, I can’t read “Far From the Tree” without reflecting on 15 years of raising a child who is, in many ways, utterly different. In total contrast to my husband Jim and me — we are both avid readers and talkers — Charlie can only read a few words, written singly in large letters. He speaks in very short (often one word) utterances with a vocabulary of not too many words. He will require lifelong care.
In contrast to what Solomon writes, our experience in raising a boy of little language has been not so much about wondering “how did we have this child?” but a constant journey into how very much Charlie is like us in temperament, intuition, sensitivity, a yearning for orderliness.
“Far From the Tree” closes with Solomon noting that “I started this book to forgive my parents and ended it by becoming one” — by becoming the father, with his husband John, of a boy named George. Noting “how unimaginable my family would have been fifty years ago,” Solomon describes his book as
… a how-to manual for receptivity: a description of how to tolerate what cannot be cured, and an argument that cures are not always appropriate even when they are feasible. As the jagged Alps are to the romantic sublime, so this curious joy is to the character of these families — nearly impossible, terrible, and terribly beautiful.
“How to tolerate what cannot be cured” and a “curious joy” that is “terribly beautiful”: statements that rather grandiosely say a simple truth, about how (to offer a broad paraphrase) love can conquer all and what a great thing that is.
What book are you planning to curl up with while leaning back on the couch, a warm cup of something nearby?
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