“ ‘He’s what we call a curler’,
The leader of this cluster said,
One word at a time,
Enjoying, like the taste of a fine wine,
The wonder at his expertise,
Release the apprehension of unknowing
From the scholastically disciplined faces
Of his learning staff.”
How else are we supposed to learn what we need to learn in order to grow up, do our job, be a friend and have a family? For most of us, most of the time, anything resembling “inspiration” is no more than an out of context mumbled whisper.
The Psychiatric interns or residents looking at H.M. through the small window in the large metal door that kept him away from the other men on the ward could see no more than the diagnosis offered by their Psychiatrist teacher.
“Curler” described his behavior witnessed at the moment. He was, in fact, curled in the corner of the room. “Paranoid Schizophrenic” is another description found in a DSM manual. Both describe behavior, and not much else.
The difficulty is in our interactive, and verbal limitations. What else can we describe about each other? This person is “generous”. Always? In all circumstances? With everyone, with every hand holding a sign in the downtown streets of every city in world?
This person is angry, or kind, or afraid. Always, with everyone?
H.M. could never be satisfied with the kinds of explanations for the way we are with each other that seemed reasonable to everyone else. When, as a young man just beginning his work, he discovered that experts in every discipline disagree with each other, his mind went numb. If an expert is someone who “knows” the answer, then how can there be anything to disagree with? No one disagrees about addition, or the letters of the alphabet. Either none of the experts really know, or there is no answer, just an agreement to pretend that there is.
When those thoughts began to take temporary control, he would need a break from work. He didn’t want his office mates asking him about his silence. H. M. would walk away from the nearby shops and find is way into some kind of park where he could sit and look at trees and flowers, and watch people walking their dogs. Often he would envy the dogs. They knew how to be what they were supposed to be, and how to get along with each other, and how to love their master holding them on a leash. He would wonder if he had ever been a dog, or whether or not he might come back as one.
Imagining himself as a dog was comforting, and soothed his confusion, converting the rock solid imponderables into ice, and then melting them.
At the end of the episode he would once again commit himself to copy the way the dogs were, obedient, and friendly. If he could act that way maybe he could begin to feel what they seemed to feel. They didn’t need to make sense of the world. If it worked for them, why not for him?
On the way back to work, he would picture himself as an Irish Setter. The wag or two on the way back to his office warmed his heart and finally, he could smile.