Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Dancing with a Changeling

I never thought that reading fairy tales would be a good preparation for dealing with life. When I took up a career as a technical writer, I never got around to mentioning my lifelong affection for fairy tales, fantasy (only occasionally as merged with science fiction as in Arthur Clarke epics), and poetry. As with so many things we learn, the practical application may come years later, if at all, and we may or may not ever consciously make the connection.

So in this frantic fortnight back in Indiana of grieving and re-connecting as families have to do, I used Emily Dickinson to say goodbye to a man who would never have read her poetry. In time he might have, but he ran out of time, so I brought her to him as my last gift.

And beyond the logic and the graphs and the clinical studies that are doing their best to describe Alzheimer's and its effect, I made my own logic with a tale from fairy land. My brother is sometimes supplanted by a changeling. Usually this happens with babies, but fairies and their quirky ways are from a different logic. We are not meant to understand it.

On the days when the changeling is walking around in my brother's room, we exercise caution and prudence and whatever rituals have worked previously to get him back from the fairies. As always with magic, sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.

I enter my brother's room with the same language each time, as if in an epic tale: Hello, Mike, this is your Sister Sharon, come from Scotland to visit you. If I have been gone for 10 minutes, I use the same greeting. Time in fairyland is not the same as the land of clocks and watches in which we live.

Yesterday the changeling was back in fairly land, and my brother was there. After the standard greeting, he gently took my hand between his and commented on how cold mine was. He used to do that when my mittens were soaked after a snowball fight. I told him Scotland was cold and he chuckled--I can only think that was a genuine memory of his visits to Scotland.