“Things in Their Right Places”
The editing of my to-be-reissued memoir has its own life rhythms. The version that appeared a decade ago included a scaffolding of explanations. At that point, I was trying to do something that received opinion, Freudian and post-modern, said was not feasible: recollect and tell truthfully what I had lived through. Sounds simple enough, but back then it was held that only the unconscious “knows” what one has been through, and of course the unconscious isn’t telling – except to those third-person experts who have the right theory.
The culture has changed, those barriers have subsided, and accordingly my defensive barricade of counter-argument can be taken down. The present editing job consists in allowing the essential narrative to fall into place unencumbered.
A fair amount of living-and-learning may have that character, of things getting released to the habitats where they belong.
Take my walking handicap. I’ve written about it here, also mentioning that Resignation is not something that I’m good at — especially when it’s not clear I have to be. Neurologists who interpreted the initial MRI had told me to get braced for a straight-line decline. As years went by, and the predictions no longer matched the symptoms, diagnoses got more tentative. There was no holistic remedy I didn’t try, including ones that were pretty borderline. Finally, I tried therapeutic riding, with a teacher who is a fabulous person and has gotten paraplegics ready to compete internationally.
My taking up riding may have led my doctors to take me more seriously. They saw me going the extra mile. A horse is a very big and willful animal. He’s not going to let you take command, unless you can. As if by a kind of contagion of purposefulness, my regular physician seems to have been prodded into referring me to someone called a “physiatrist,” who has a method for testing the difference between what muscles can do and what nerves can do. The results enabled him to say something exactly in line with my long-time intuitive sense: we don’t yet know the cause!
Never has an admission of ignorance sounded more welcome to my ears! Hey, there is a cause. Hey, it has not yet been discovered. And the diagnostic process has two new places where it might operate. Go to the veins. Blood might help us locate the biochemical aspects. Go to the muscles. Physical therapy could strengthen them. And by the way, you can put your right foot in the stirrup now. Which is the place that foot most wants to be.
Today a friend emailed a video about the new anti-Semitism on a number of U.S. campuses, coast to coast. From the insults and placards that now figure in “anti-Israel” demonstrations, it’s evident that Jewish college students on those campuses are suffering intimidation and vile bigotry reminiscent of Germany in the thirties.
Watching this, I felt both terrified and impotent – two sides of the same feeling. As I talked about it with Jerry, it became clearer to me that, were I still on campus as active faculty, I would organize. I would find a few equally outraged professors-in-the-closet, plot our course, pressure the administration, parents, trustees — and use the press. I would do something. Despite Saudi money and this season’s brownshirts, we would get somewhere.
I don’t teach beautiful and noble things – only to roll over for infamy.
I no longer have any leverage on the Brooklyn College campus where I used to teach. I’m not there. There are still campus fights in America, but they don’t have my name on them. But where I now live – outwardly a town secluded from the world — I have been in a succession of combats in defense of Jews and the beleaguered Jewish nation, have found brave allies and taken the stands that could be taken, up to now, in this place.
In the Greek myth, Theseus has to kill the Minotaur who dwells in the dark depths of a labyrinth. Slaying the Minotaur is hard enough, but it will be harder still for the hero to escape the labyrinth. Ariadne comes to his aid with a thread he can attach to the entrance, finding his way back by keeping hold of the thread.
What can the myth tell us? We can’t help getting into fixes like the one Theseus faced.
Our job is not to avoid or escape the journey.
Our job is to find the right labyrinth.