Thursday, June 02, 2005

Fierce Grace

a couple of months ago, in a fit of nostalgia for a time when we felt a surge of optimism for the future of our country and the world, as opposed to our current mood, the bums remembered the book titled "be here now." created by a very modern man who had found the ancient inside of himself, based mainly on hindu philosophy while honoring judeo-christian traditions and indeed all spiritual paths, goofy and sublime at once with its rippling and circular text over evocative line drawings, a worldwide best-seller, it was and is both the story of a man's discovery of self in the world and a book of pages each and every equidistant from beginning or end. aphorism's abound. good ones. you children of the sixties, and maybe you children of those children, you remember it, don't you. blue cover, white print on it, a circle full of straight lines, some white pages with regular text, the big middle of brown pages with wildly varying fonts and geometry.

getting up to speed on the author's life in the process of finding and ordering a new copy of the book, which we had both owned and read earlier in our lives, we found that he had been afflicted with a damaging stroke. we found also that there was available a documentary of his life and the consequences of the stroke, so we ordered it immediately.

fierce grace is the story of ram dass, nee richard alpert, child of fortune and overachieving academic. his father, a practicing attorney, was also president of the long island and new haven railroad and a founder of brandeis university. when richard was a young professor at harvard he met his more famous collaborator timothy leary, who died in 1996. to avoid speaking ill of the dead i will just say that in my opinion ram dass has made better use of his life than tim did of his. after they were both, famously at the time, fired from harvard for subjective psychedelic research, richard traveled to india as a spiritual seeker. he met his guru and made radical changes in his life, not least of which was, at the request of his guru, renouncing his inheritance. he did not, however renounce his family, and spent more than a year caring for his dying father.

in 1997 ram dass suffered a serious stroke. he is most gracious in allowing us to watch him deal with the loss of use of parts of his body and more difficult, with loss of access to parts of his mind. watching him is emotionally challenging for me because my father suffered similarly from a stroke, and died in 1988. neither man lost his intelligence nor self-awareness, but both lost something of their minds and knew it. in speech therapy ram dass learns to be patient with himself in his inability to find words to express a thought he knows inside; words he knows that he knew perfectly well before his stroke, when he never had to search for words to express his most complex thoughts and ideas. he learns how to ask for patience from others and how to ask for help.

we all get old. some of us are old now. many of us have family and friends who are old, and stroke does not always honor the young by its absence. ram dass offers his experience to us all as an example of living with the effects of a stroke. RD and i watched this video when we got it and cried through much of it, even many of the joyous parts. though we do not, as ram dass does, sense a personal god, we honor and court the realization of the joy in the connectedness of all life, the desire for which is a seemingly ubiquitous human trait. i watched it later with a group of friends who get together for potluck dinner and a video once a month or so. we watch documentaries, biographies, travelogues---no thrillers or entertainment movies, though we are often entertained. in a group usually ready to discuss the evening's offering after its showing, there was a profound silence of some duration after fierce grace.

you can buy fierce grace from:

many libraries will purchase videos which their patrons request, or you can buy it, watch it, and donate it to your library.

be here now

1 comment:

  1. Found a lot of useful info on your site about speech therapy - thank you. Haven't finished reading it yet but have bookmarked it so I don't lose it. I've just started a speech therapy blog myself if you'd like to stop by