“The capacity to pay attention to an afflicted person is something very rare, very difficult; it is nearly a miracle. It is a miracle.” – Simone Weil
On Edward’s eighteenth birthday in October, I refused to look away. I changed his clothes after he vomited the cake into his own lap. Once he was clean, my father and I helped him into the hospital bed and I lay down beside him, still smelling the sour spoil of vomit on my hands.
“Edward, do you remember what today is?”
“Mah, mah – birth – day?” the words shook and struggled out of him.
“Yes! Yes!” I said, in that strange ecstasy that made me treat him like a child, the one that made me praise him for the smallest things. “Do you know that you are loved? Do you know that I am proud of you?”
In response, he pressed his hand hard into mine. I burned with pride.
Whenever I did look away, it was either toward memories of my brother from before his brain injury, or toward the hope that his mind and body would work again, exactly as they always had. Whenever I did not look away, I smelled vomit, or I watched him labor over the least of language: I saw a fear that demanded to know the whole of me. In those moments, my body became an absolute witness for him, and this was the only gift I could give him.
In those moments, the present was so bright it was burning, but I did not displace any of its light – I did not rearrange it into future or fantasy. It was the light alone that existed, and I did not alter it. It was the light alone that existed, and I abided my desire to break it, to reshape it, to make it mine. It was the light alone that existed, and I worshipped it, exactly as it was.
And this was very rare, very difficult. I think it was a miracle.