Back when I was a student my middle was a dark place of pessimistic nihilism shrouded in impenetrable angst. Life was devoid of meaning, and always would be. Just to make sure that the fact wasn’t lost on people, I wore a very long, black coat that had a velvet collar. That collar was a little bit ticklish, but on the whole it was a small comfort that I could always turn to as I wandered through those late teenage years of unspeakable weltschmerz and uncertainty.
Somewhere along the way the angst got forgotten. I think that the bank’s relentless requests for me to focus on my overdraft and concentrate on making it an underdraft somehow removed much of my world pain. The Smiths split too. Morrissey got all stylish and The Cure seemed happier somehow. By ’92 they’d be doing this. Everybody was either emigrating or getting a job at home and I just couldn’t keep the dark moodiness going on my own. You need time for that kinda thing anyway.
But change is the only constant, right? And the last twenty years have seen plenty of it. Ups, downs, sidewayses… Mostly though with sunny side up. I saw Leonard Cohen in June this year, and he was sublime. I knew he’d be damn funny too when early on in the gig he said he’d tried lots of different religions, ‘but cheerfulness kept breaking through.’
And that expression got me to thinking. Cheerfulness keeps breaking through with me too, but of late I’m sensing that it can cause upset to others. I’ve been dealt some lucky cards in my time. I’ve gotten some real jokers too. Now I’m wondering, is my natural proclivity for seeing the positive resented by others?
I was involved in a group discussion recently where someone was having a hard time with themselves and their expectations of and hopes for their DS child. Perfectly normal on any given day. My commentary, as is often the case with me, was upbeat and positive. Another voice in the discussion said words to the effect that if you don’t have regrets for your child with DS then you’re not progressing.
The comment stung me at that moment. I personalised it because, in the eight months or so that Jacob has been with us, I did not ever wish that he didn’t have Down syndrome. I had become immediately immersed in the special needs of my boy, but the thoughts of him not having DS, or the idea of wishing there was a cure, never entered my mind.
With that one little comment, I felt like I’d run into that Wile E. Coyote fake tunnel painted onto the cliff face.
Does this make me a bad parent, not wishing for better for my child? It seems so, in a courtroom drama sense at least.
Prosecuting lawyer adopts chummy elbow-on-bench pose as he addresses the jury.
‘Now ladies and gentlemen, are these the actions of a caring father, a father working towards the betterment of his dreadfully disabled son? No they are not, ladies and gentlemen. No they most certainly. Are. Not.’
Open and shut. Let’s all go home. But hold on a minute. Hold on there a minute. Just hold on a minute. I’m here a wee while. I’m beginning to know myself. I’m not Captain Hip Hip Hooray, but on the whole I am a cheerful guy. Glass half full of lemonade made from the lemons, yeah? Jacob came as he is. I took him as he was. There was no more to it. His day has a slightly different structure now than his brothers did at his age, but once the physio, slower feeding and sign language etc have been factored in – and even as they are BEING factored in – I do not see the difference. Occasionally it is brought home to me. Like when I see his cousin, who is slightly younger, easily surpassing him with milestones. Or when he has a particularly square-jawed downsie look. But I cannot imagine ‘fixing’ him.
I have been chided once or twice by she who is nearest and dearest to me about my optimism. She’s right, because sometimes it is inappropriate. On more than one occasion she has said that ‘If it was up to him, EVERYBODY would have a kid with Downs.’ Not PC enough for you? Probably not. But on those occasions, when my heart is overcome with the straightforward, no-strings-attached love that funnels between him and me, I wish this for everyone. Yes I do. Maybe I don’t know enough about the future and its trials. Maybe I’m a naive fool. But right now I do not care that his Leaving Cert results will not matter in quite the same way as mine did, or that his career trajectory will not be stellar in the Wall Street sense. I do not care. And if I am lucky I will not care later either. His life will have its own worries. Whose doesn’t, exactly? Much of what he does will be judged on a different scale. As I look back from the (hopefully!) half way mark I wonder whose will be the better quality scale when the final courtroom verdict is in. I’ve seen one or two judges in my time make one or two fool judgement calls.
I’ll deal with the problems of the future when they come to find me.
The judge peers over glasses and under bushy eyebrows to address the jury.
‘Gentlemen and ladies of the jury, you are directed to deliver a verdict in the case of A. Cheerfulidiot. What say ye?’