Yesterday was Pentecost, or Pfingsten here in Germany, a day that commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit and the start of the Church on Earth. Tongues of fire came down and rested upon the disciples, who began speaking in other tongues so that everyone who was listening understood them in his or her native language.
As per usual, my brother David has been sending me e-mails and texts. Mostly they are quotes from Spongebob Squarepants, but occasionally they include clips or quotes from Star Trek. Every once in a while, like after getting a haircut, he sends me a selfie.
I’ve written about these messages before. No doubt I will again. They are windows into the workings of a brain that even leading medical researchers can’t quite figure out. In the past year his doctors have changed his medication numerous times, decreasing it when it dulled him, increasing it when the seizures increased (in number if not severity), changing the drug when they persisted.
Two weeks ago I was talking to mom over the phone when David came home from school. Immediately it was apparent that something was wrong. Never particularly loquacious—especially after the school day—David barely had to say a word to signal to my mom and me that another seizure was encroaching.
“How are you, David?”
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” His response was distracted, distanced, and somewhat aggravated. I could almost hear his eyes glazing over. The remove in his voice suggested that the ocean between us was a puddle compared to the expanse between our brains.
He stayed on the phone and answered a few questions about school and less than two minutes later he was back to what we’ve come to know as normal. As far as seizures go, this was his shortest and least severe. Whatever had seized him let go. His answers were still abbreviated, still somewhat aggravated—why answer questions about math class when there are Spongebob re-runs to re-watch?—but at least they were present.
What makes David’s texts, e-mails, and video messages so special is that they are voluntary. Maybe it’s the remove of a screen that comforts him. Maybe it’s the easiest way to share what he knows. Maybe it’s the knowledge that our correspondence can happen on his terms, through his channels. He can misquote Mr. Krabs from Spongebob Squarepants episode 24b (original air date: December 28, 2000) and it’s up to us to figure it out:
Don’t go all loop on me boy i need your help now were in high sea is siquward I gave him the day off the day off to my tale fin injoy
As part of his school curriculum, David has been helping out at local institutions. He folds towels at the gym, sorts and shelves movies at the video store, and cleans CDs at the library. Last week at the library he came across an audio book featuring Vienna, a city he knows is important to me, and wrote me about it.
I found the word Vienna in auto books to my tale fin injoy <20160511_125814.jpg>
Sending you a picture of Adiuo books with the Vienna to my tale fin injoy <20160511_125814.jpg>
The picture wasn’t properly attached in either e-mail, but he sent it on the next day. There he is, seated behind a freshly cleaned copy of Vivien Shotwell’s Vienna Nocturne. He’s wearing a Captain Picard t-shirt (caption: “Make It So”) and is impossibly resting both of his hands. There’s an impassive, almost melancholy, expression on his face.
It’s another window. He never takes pictures without lifting a hand. Why is this picture different? I can’t make sense of his countenance. Is he upset? Or is that a serene, Picardian, Make-It-So confidence he’s bearing?
Yesterday in church the pastor read a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from Nazi prison about a coming day, a day when our present language, corrupted as it is by corporations and governments and culture and the Church, will be overcome by something new: “It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming—as was Jesus’ language.”
On that day, we might hear what it sounds like to be free of what seizes us. Until then, Pentecost means we have to listen to things we don’t yet understand.