I strolled along the beach one evening. One evening before my accident. The light on the beach will remain etched in my memory. Silvery clear and other worldly. The beach stretched ahead like a long tunnel. Far in the distance was a dark shape which, as I got closer, transformed itself into a small child.
This was no “normal” child. The young boy with maybe Down Syndrome splashing in the dark waves was a dream child belonging to one of Fellini’s masterpieces. What was it about him that so took my breath away? His world at that moment was so small and yet greater and wider than mine had ever been. His head rearing upwards and tasting the air like a young foal struggling for breath. His hands flapping birdlike at his sides. Splashing the water onto his chest. Almost beating it there. And then his sudden stillness. Head cocked to one side. Listening. Absorbing. And abandoning himself once more to the inexpressible joy of the moment. He was one of the most “present” figures I have ever encountered.
I stood watching him, totally transfixed. Then an old tramp asked me to fill a Coke bottle with sea water for him. I waded ever watchful into the water as I did so. Sure enough the child came across to me. Gesturing towards the horizon he babbled excitedly. I use the word “babble” because he was using a language all his own. Unintelligible to the “normal” ear. I felt helpless. I did not know how to respond to him. And so I held back, lacking the courage to enter his world. We could have shared a moment together, gloried in the joy of living. Instead I declined and he disappointedly withdrew. He moved off, singing softly to himself. I stood watching him a little longer. He was joined by a man and woman. The man feeling the wetness of his shorts, cuffed him sharply. The woman placed a towel tenderly around his shoulders, took his hand and led him out of the sea. I saw the life in him quenched. A hand cupped over the butterfly.
That night flows into my memory. Often.
Now, I too have brain damage. If I were to wade into the sea alongside that retarded boy now, I would not turn away. If he asked me to “enter his world” for a while, I would do so gladly. Without the slightest hesitation.
But the moment has passed. We cannot relive our lives.
We can only go forward.