Tuesday, March 13, 2012

the glockenspiel, the belt and the laugh

I've been chronicling our venture into music, which has been pretty darn exciting. I've seen my brother -- who has autism, and some other cognitive disabilities, which make his comprehension limited and his verbal ability nil -- dive into music like a duck into a puddle. He's taken to it, in ways I couldn't have imagined. And because my imagination has been so impaired, I've been often following his lead, astonished at the depths of his attention, the ways he expresses his enjoyment of music and his love, out and out, profound love of music. Until now, I was ignorant of his passion. And for that I'm apologizing here, to Alan. Because I don't know how else to express my regret for not having recognized this, and given him this very simple, necessary gift before now.

Thinking of how he seems to be mezmerised by old-timey music on the radio. How he brushes the keys of a glockenspiel ( a small xylophone) with a drum stick -- rapidly, freely. Lightly taps the top of a small drum, the kind they play in Ireland, Melinda, his music teacher, told him today. Taps lightly in a steady, fast rhythm.

He teaches Melinda and me a lot. That a true musciian takes breaks when he feels like it. He may just not always want to tap a drum when he's asked to do so, and well, he won't. If he's overcome with the desire to simply look into Melinda's face -- as though she's brought him water while he was parched, as though she's the most beautiful creature he's ever seen -- that's what he'll do. We know that when he's taking a break like this, we can't do anything. We can only look back at him.

Alan has a long, narrow head, a large, well defined nose (someone once said, that if he had Alan's nose, he really could have gone places) and very full lips. His looks have been compared -- not unrealistically -- to Jean Paul Belmondo's. But what makes you look back at him when he's on break looking at you is the steadiness and calm of his light blue eyes. They're the eyes of a practiced yogi.

Today, after music I took Alan to a small park in the neighborhood. It was a very warm spring day -- almost the warmest March 13th on record, the radio announcer said -- and it would have been a sin to go to Starbucks. I happened to have two bananas with me and as this is Alan's favorite food, there was absolutely no reason to go anywhere but to the park. As we got out of the car, I noticed Alan was holding his pants up. They (the people in his group home who care for him) had forgotten to put a belt on him and his pants had he not been holding them up would have -- literally - fallen to his knees. I felt a moment of annoyance. How could the staff have forgotten something so basic? They don't dress him with any care! His pants in fact are way too long, now that we're on the subject. But Alan wasn't annoyed. Quite the opposite! When we reached this little patch of wood chips, surrounded by green lawn, Alan looked at me and started to laugh. A laugh rolled out of him, loud, bold. His eyes took hold of mine, and the rolling laugh subsided into a long, delighted chuckle.

I don't recall ever having heard Alan laugh before.