Rodger was a wordsmith. He was paid to write scripts for commercial and instructional videos, but he spent a lot of his own time crafting sentences with rhyme. He metered them out to anyone he could get to listen to his brainchildren. He was a playful man but his penchant for rhyming couplets had long since ceased to be a source of delight to his friends; even his best friend, Rose, only endured them out of love for Rodger and in support of anything he created. Only strangers were surprised and amused by his hobby.
"If dreams fulfilled our wishes, the sea would be full of fishes", Rodger mused out loud to his bemused cat as he dished moist tuna food into her dish. "No, that's not quite got it. If streams were filled with our wishes, the sea would be full of fishes. That's better, especially if the wishers were fishers. If wishes fulfilled our dreams, then fish would fill these streams." That wasn't any improvement, he realized, but he had fun reversing words; he did it, he imagined, to explore the opportunities of thought that the process brought.
Whenever he speculated on the origin of his specialty, he thought of his mother. Rodger's mother had always done the crossword puzzle in the Hamilton Spectator before she went to bed. She read the birth, marriage, and death notices faithfully so she could tell George if anyone they knew, or that he might be associated with, had experienced a momentous occasion in their lives. Amelia used to refer to the page in lighthearted terms as the "hatch, match, and dispatch columns". Perhaps that was what planted the seeds for Rodger's love of words and rhymes and challenging puzzles. For whatever reason, he packed word puzzle books with him wherever he went and would wait for appointments and flights by solving the acrostics and rebuses and other word puzzles that challenged the usual mindset boundaries. He had never wanted to take on the task of creating any of these but he certainly appreciated the skill and creativity of the authors who made them.
Wishes were his focus this morning because yesterday someone had suggested that wishing generated a self-fulfilling reality. If you truly wish to enjoy a movie you will look for the enjoyment (however little there might be in it) and focus on it and magnify it so that you enjoy the movie. Your wish worked for you more than for the others who saw it with you reportedly in a neutral state or mindset or who had prepared themselves to see a "bad" movie.
He wished he knew what else was true. He wanted to write what was right. Could wishes be a powerful force for shaping expectation and perception in the mind's eye of the wisher? Well, probably, especially if the person were a suggestible sort. But perhaps it would work in some limited fashion for everyone, he thought.
On the other hand, experience had also taught him that just "wishing won't make it so". You have to put some effort into making your wishes come true. You have to do something beyond believing in them. You have to do all you can to make them happen -- to work them into reality.
But there are also times when a person must leave the confines of apparent fact and turn to wishes for some effect. When you are in a position where you find yourself unable to do anything of practical effect, you may resort to wishing the best outcome for an event or a person.
Wishes, he reasoned, were not just idle gestures. Certainly, the massive greeting card business attested to that. Wishing was a willful act, whether it was wishing that a destructive or negative thing would happen or wishing that a benevolent or positive thing would occur. Rodger wasn't sure whether beneficent wishes held more sway over the physical and mental universe than malevolent wishes did, but he was always prepared to believe that the universe was friendly. Perhaps it was his wish that it were so that made his experience of it so, but whatever the cause he enjoyed the effect; it was a perceived reality to him whether or not it was a verifiable reality that would satisfy the rigorous testing of a social scientist.
Right now he wished that Rose would find hope in a future without her left leg (and the cancerous knee that had caused the amputation.) He wished that she could see beyond the loss of this part of her body. He wanted her to realize that she was not her leg (or she'd be twins -- and wouldn't her arms be miffed; after all didn't they do more expressing of who she was than her legs!) He wished she would soon be aware that the woman she was not diminished by the loss of her leg or arm and that her life could be full and rich even if there might be some activities that she could not engage in as easily now as before. He reflected for a moment on all the athletes who were excelling at sports within the limitations of a loss of the use of their legs. Rose was no athlete but it might prove to her that life can be complete, as long as you've got a seat.
He made a mental note to tell her about the training video he had help make. In writing the script for this sales device for a Swedish lightweight collapsible wheelchair, he had been impressed with what it could do in the right hands. He remembered how intrigued he was with the scene where a man climbed the theatre staircase backwards by gripping the railing with both hands and pulling himself up while belted into the seat of the sportschair. Sure, it took some arm muscle, but that could be developed with use. We humans are marvelously adaptable, if we wish to be. After all, hadn't he, Rodger the clumsy, quickly learned to eat with his left hand when he lacerated the tendons on the back of his right hand that summer in Banff? Rose would have to do what she wished to do and no amount of wishing on his part could force her to go against her wishes. He only sent his wishes to her to bolster whatever wishes she had with regard to recovering her control of her life and getting on with whatever journey she was to make of it.
It was interesting that the topic of wishing had come up yesterday because here he was wishing inspiration and hope for Rose as he would have anyway, but now it was with a keener sense of what he was doing. He couldn't do anything physical about her leg and he was on his way to visit her and give her whatever hopeful inspiration he could, but he was also wishing something supportive for her. What was the purpose of his wishes? Would they pave the way for his visit? Would they give him a positive mindset or an aura of beneficent force as he entered her space? Rodger was convinced that his wishing and his wishes could do no harm. They might do some good in that they reinforced his intention to help Rose increase her positive outlook on her future. If his wishes alone could make it so then they would, but he also recognized that Rose had to have similar wishes for that shift in her attitude to occur. Wishing was, after all, an active enterprise and she would have to act on her own behalf to participate in, or benefit from, Rodger's wishes for her.
When he greeted Rose she was glad to see him. She would have been glad to see anyone who was not a healthcare worker at this time. If she had wished to make that truth known to him she failed because Rodger got the impression that she was glad to see him, Rodger, the rhymer, and not just because he was not another attendant or therapist. Rose asked what the weather was like to avoid talking about herself, but Rodger got to the point of his visit soon after dealing summarily with the temperature and its effect on him.
"Enough about the weather, Rose, how's your leg with all its toes?"
"I was glad to see you, but with a few more of those, I'll be kicking you out with the use of those toes! Oh God, it's catching. Look what you've done to me Rodger, you've infected me with rhyme disease.
"Relax, Rose, it's a benign condition."
"Actually, I was lying here thinking about my leg and wishing that they had taken both off at the same time; it would be so much more symmetrical and you know my artistic bent for symmetry. I think hopping about on one leg like Long John Silver or Peg-Legged Pete is downright unladylike. Is that how I'm supposed to go gracefully into my golden years?"
Rodger was glad to see that her wit and sharp mind were unclouded by any anesthetic traces. "I suppose the benefits of symmetry might not sustain you as well as a leg. At least you have a leg to stand on in your arguments; symmetry wouldn't give you that."
"Rodger, is that what you came to tell me, that I at least have a leg to stand on for the sake of arguments or that I'd be better off unbalanced if I want to get around in this crazy world of ours?"
"No. I came to see how you were dealing with the reality of having only one leg. I was hoping it wouldn't permanently squelch your usually buoyant approach to life."
"Well, I'm not ready to kick up my heels over this, Rodger. In fact, I haven't got two heels to kick and can't imagine myself jumping."
Rodger assessed her mood and felt it was appropriate and probably a realistic response to her situation. "I was wishing that you'd just thumb your nose at the injustice of it all and get on with kicking up a storm about you as usual. You can still have a kick at the cat, it's just that for now you'll have to do it while seated. 'And while she sat, she kicked the cat.' That sort of thing."
"Oh Roger, you're incorrigible. I'm sitting here in a blue funk and you burst in on it with your sunny disposition and horrid rhymes. You piss me off. Why can't you just leave me alone here down in the dumps? Are you just so perverse that you can't let me stew and enjoy a self-indulgent pity party for one?"
"Rose. I'm sorry if I upset you; I didn't come here to annoy you. I do it out of love for you. Not the mushy romantic love, but the caring brotherly love that wants the best for you and wants you to be whole and all you can be."
"With a leg buried somewhere, you want me to be whole! How do you figure that'll happen?"
"It will happen when you get bored being at your pity party. It will happen when you get up from the dump and reclaim the bright spirit that you were before you lost your leg. It will happen when you recognize that you are more than your body and that you're a complete person even without your legs and arms. That's how I figure it will happen. But if you're still having fun at your party, I'll leave you to it. Give me a call when you get home from it."
Roger got up from his chair and turned to leave. Rose looked away from him and remained silent. She was brooding still, but not with the same intent as before.
"Roger, wait a minute. I don't want you to leave like that. You're a true friend when you tell me things that are hard to hear, but needed. Give me time to mull it over."
"An hour or a day. What do you say?"
"You're impossible. Give me a hug and then you can go."
When Rodger had gone, Rose was alone for some time and replayed their conversation over and over. Had she been selfish and hurtful? No, she'd been honest in expressing how she felt and if you can't do that with a friend, well then she didn't need him as a friend.
"You're probably right, Rodger", she mused, "I've been having this dialogue with myself. There's been no one else who wanted to listen to me gripe and whine after the first few weeks. And part of me, the eternal optimist, argues just as you did that I am more than my legs and arms and face and hands; I'm a unique spirit that has something to contribute - a gift to others as long as I can communicate. I probably offer that gift more freely and clearly when my self-centred pessimist side isn't so argumentative. I don't especially like that darker side of myself, but lately it's had free reign and been doing a fairly convincing job of winning the debate over who and what I am."
As she lay there she wished Rodger were still there with her so she could tell him "I'm sorry I snapped at you. You meant well, I realize now and the optimist in me thanks you. And I, as whole as I can be with these two inside my head, thank you too. You've given me a lot to think about. The image of kicking the cat as I sit makes me smile and I haven't done that in a while." Oh damn, she thought, I just did a Rodger! "Hurry back, Rodger, I'll need your coaching as I climb out of this pit I've dug for myself."
After taking her evening meds, Rose watched some TV until she fell asleep.
While Rose was having this internal dialogue, Rodger made his way home. He walked down the corridor past the other patients' rooms and tried to ignore what was going on in and around them. It helped to think of just how he would assess Rose's emotional state and what the prospects were for her to regain her usual buoyancy while she was still in the hospital. Perhaps it's too early to try to bring about or expect a change in her attitude until she gets away from the constant reminders that she is 'sick' or a patient. But on the other hand maybe it was never too soon to plant the seeds of ideas and to suggest approaches to her altered physical state. She may not, and very probably would not, show any change yet. (He was usually suspicious of rapid and sudden change; he suspected it of being temporary.) She would have to ruminate on what he said until she claimed it as her own decision and approach to her state.
Rodger breathed in the spring air. He loved the scent of the aspens, especially after the rain had washed their leaves of the prairie dust. With this infusion of living air he stepped along more lively and began to think of what his session number two was going to cover.
He remembered an exercise that someone had once put him through when they were trying to get him to think about where his soul resided. They were trying to get him to identify what was essentially and necessarily him. How did it go? Oh, yes they posed hypothetical situations and then asked him to answer two questions about each in turn. The first one had related to the loss of a hand. They had asked him: "Is your soul in your hand and if you lost your hand would your soul be gone from you?" He remembered saying 'No. That's a silly idea.' and they went on and asked the second standard question: "all right, then is any part of your soul lost with your severed hand?" He had said 'No' again. Then they proceeded to push the situation to an extreme and pose the situation that he had lost both arms and legs. They then asked how he would answer those two questions. He now thought that he had probably given the same negations because he had had difficulty thinking how he could express his spirit or soul with no means of getting around. He had tried to think of anyone he could recall who could use neither arms nor legs and he couldn't. Now, he knew of severely paralyzed people and of Stephen Hawking who could only direct, request, and dictate his wished and ideas. But Stephen still exhibited a bright soul and brilliant mind. Certainly Stephen could not physically do what he had done in earlier years, but Rodger was certain that neither Stephen nor those who knew him well would say that he had lost any of his soul.
He wondered if that approach would trigger some useful ideas in Rose. It was worth a try and he would tell her about the exercise tomorrow.
On the bus going home, Rodger thought about what other extreme situation might lead him to decide that his soul was either in danger of being diminished or lost. Did he really think that his soul had a physical component - a place where it was located and from which it could be evicted? Where does the soul reside in the whole? he rhymed. What would have to happen to him, in order for him to feel that he had lost his soul or essential self?
What if he were unable to communicate. Helen Keller had been blind and deaf and so never learned to speak as we usually do by imitating the sounds we hear from our parents in association with objects and ideas to express our needs and desires. But she had learned how to communicate with the help of a very patient and inspired teacher, Anne Sullivan. And anyone who knew of Helen Keller recognized an indomitable soul.
As he rode the elevator to his apartment, he wondered about folks in a coma. Where was their soul? Was it trapped inside them and dormant or alert but unable to express itself? Certainly those loved ones who regularly visited their comatose friend or relative must have believed that their soul could sense their presence and wishes if not their words. As Rodger walked down the hall to his suite he wondered if the comatose person's soul was floating above them in a manner similar to the persons who had had near death experiences and recalled seeing the persons who were rendering life-sustaining and resuscitation services on their body. They did not say 'on them'; they used the words 'on my body'. They must have considered that the essential person that they were was with them while they looked down at their body through which they had expressed their soul or essential self. So was the comatose person's soul tied to their body until it died? He certainly did not have the answers but it was turning into a fascinating exploration and he wondered if Rose would be up to engaging in such an academic and speculative discussion tomorrow.
Mandy mewed for food and rubbed up against his pant leg while he sorted the mail into 'Open and Read' and 'Recycle Directly' piles. He didn't find any more time to ponder the site of the human soul now because the evening routines of returning telephone calls, feeding Mandy and stroking her for a while, and preparing his own supper while he watched TV, held all of his attention until he went to bed. Even then, he didn't get beyond a review of his earlier thoughts before he drifted into that other world where he seemed to live and recall glimpses of both benign and bizarre events.
He was late getting to Rose's room but it was okay because she had just finished her physiotherapy session.
"Is it safe to enter?" Rodger was checking her mood.
"Only if you're armed with chocolate." Rose teased.
"Oops, I guess this bard is barred.
"Are you crazy. Get in here; I was testing and jesting. Okay?"
"Yes, and it's more than okay; it's great to see you feeling jesty, if that's a word. And if it's not, then we've given birth to a new member of the English language. You and I are proud parents of little "Jesty".
"Rodger, I want you to know how helpful your talk to me was yesterday. I appreciate it more today than I did at the time and I want you to know that I love you for hanging in there with me and yet not joining in on my pity party."
"Thanks, Rose. I'm glad you're feeling better about life."
"Thanks to a lot of you and some physio."
"You mean it was me and some therapy that have set you free to really be?"
"Yes, Rodger, in spite of your terse verse, you're good medicine for me. Sometimes you're like a big brother and sometimes you're like a big bother, but I appreciate your caring and yes, I've been looking forward to your next lesson."
"Well now let's see. Do you have the time to learn to rhyme?"
"No interest, buddy. And besides, that's your thing not mine."
"Seriously, Rose, I think from here on in you'll be teaching me. I got thinking about how I'd survive if I lost my writing arm or couldn't talk. I'm expecting to learn, along with you, how adaptable we are at facing losses and challenges that are more meaningful than word puzzles."
"Did you say learn together? I like the closeness of the sound of that. Want to help me with my crutch-walking? You can coach me. I'm not supposed to put my arm pit on the top pad but only push down on the handle grips."
"Fine. It's probably time we took little Jesty for a walk anyway."
Copyright © 1995 Charles M. Bidwell