THE UNHOLY SACROSANCT
By John Thomas Tuft
There is something about being a human being that draws us to both the unholy and the sacrosanct. We are at once both Simba being lifted high by Mufasa and, at the same time, we are Scar being overcome by the compelling thirst for what we don’t have. We can feel alone in a crowd while at the same time we can have a heart so crowded that there is no room for another. We construct our imaginations around the sincere faith in the supernatural while we trip headlong over the preternatural, the extraordinary that marks our very existence as an inexplicable wonder that begins and ends in dust. We want both our humble Jesus and our gelatinous determination to make it big, to be known by how many know of us. But this is not a sermon, this is a place for story. The story of the unholy sacrosanct that makes life seem all difficulty yet, also, claims that the very difficulty is how we learn what is to be cherished; what is truly holy.
Ricardo was born into a family that did not want him. And they let him know that from day one. So much so, that by the time he was fourteen, Ricardo weighed twenty-three pounds and had irreversible brain damage. His muscles had spastic fits and he required a gastro tube through which he could be fed. In his classroom for special needs children, Ricardo was left on his own by the others because when they came near he grabbed at their skin and held on tight, leaving bruises. Not to mention the fearful seizures that tormented his body, a body that barely amounted to an armful in his teacher’s lap. Abby knew that Ricardo’s life was an unspeakable horror that the overwhelmed authorities found easier to deflect than correct. Many was the morning when Abby checked the feeding to tube only to discover that, once again, his belly had been filled with warm water to make him feel full, without nourishment.
Abby took to keeping small cans of diced peaches and applesauce on hand. Ricardo’s face would visibly brighten when she straightened his small form in his wheelchair and tied a bib around his neck. His excitement and anticipation of the sweet goodness and actual food for his starving body translated into squeals and grunts of delight and painful clutching of her skin. Many was the day that Abby arrived home exhausted, drained, and covered with the bruises from Ricardo’s care. While other teachers read stories for preschool aged children to their special needs students, Abby read the real thing: Treasure Island, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. You get the idea. Food for the soul.
If you have never been with a group of special needs children when they are in music class then you may never understand the true power of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony played by the New York Philharmonic or, Handel’s water music or, Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos. It is the epitome of the unholy sacrosanct. Music is primal. It is the last sense that the damaged brain clings to. Yo-Yo Ma coaxes stories from his cello in the same manner and spirit that the aged ballerina with dementia still moves her arms in the graceful motions of Swan Lake as it plays on her granddaughter’s cellphone. Ricardo may not have been able to replicate rhythm and harmony but the effects of same were evident to any observer in his dancing eyes and bass clef smile of warm delight. With all the utter rawness, the harshness, and the unfathomable cherished-ness of the unholy sacrosanct that marks our own lives.
Ricardo liked to wear his Aquaman shirt, every day if he could. The superhero of the underwater world, the half human, half water creature with the muscles and stamina to take on evil armies and defend the weak, lifting high his mighty trident in triumph over the forces of evil. Ricardo would smile broadly and laugh each time Abby would spot the shirt and cry, “Ricky, is that you or did Aquaman take your shirt again?” The other teachers were amazed, for they had never heard Ricardo laugh before. When the sensory inputs of the classroom and Ricardo’s inner processes became too much for him and he began to thrash about, Abby would swoop him up in her arms and take him on her lap in the rocker chair. Most times, many long minutes would tick by until she could feel him begin to relax taut muscles and sink against her as she sang to him. Which is where he was when the terrible seizure hit.
His body stiffened into a rigid form. So stiff and unmoving that Abby feared the boy would stop breathing. As the teachers called 911 to summon help, Abby held Ricardo, even as the others insisted she put him down. “No,” she said, “I’m keeping my hand in the spilled applesauce on Aquaman so I can feel if he’s still breathing.” Which is how the EMTs found them both. Or, perhaps they were angels. For as one of them listened with his stethoscope to Ricardo’s chest, slowly shaking his head, the other gently pried Abby’s arms from around the body. “You might not have changed his life,” she whispered to Abby, “but he’s left a bright mark on yours. When people see light in us, it’s because we’ve been through the darkness.”
That is the unholy sacrosanct.