The news photos—the bulky container ship straddled across the straight blue gash cut through yellow sands—prompted memories of my wonder and curiosity when, as an eight-year-old in June 1956, I gazed down from the deck of the P&O liner Strathaird at those sandy banks along the Suez Canal. I knew little of the world beyond the urban slums of northern England. Knew nothing of the lives, cultures, languages of the peoples I saw on my family’s journey aboard that migrant ship from England to Australia. Knew not that the opportunities awaiting us in Australia were inextricably linked to the color of my skin.
I stood in front of the granadillas for what felt like an eternity, holding an empty plastic bag in my right hand and a shopping basket in my left. (A granadilla is a small South American fruit, with a round orange hard outer shell, and a white velvety layer in its interior, holding black seeds swimming in a gelatinous sweet pulp). The people at the store, likely rushing to get out of there as soon as possible, felt like ghosts that somehow managed to get around my inert body. My stupor probably looked like a staring contest with these fruits. Their passive silence did nothing but increase my confusion. Perhaps I was waiting in vain for them to give me some clarity, whether an answer to my shopping nightmare or something that would help me make sense of the last few days.
Anton: The concept of loss or losing is important because it speaks to the ways that opening oneself up and allowing oneself to be moved is not just a benign thing to do; it involves relaxing one’s grasp of what one thinks one already knows, including about oneself, and taking the risk of losing one’s previous understandings.
All I can do is assert—with more passion than proof— a psychoanalytic mode that is more lyric than rational, more metaphysical than scientific. It has long been commonplace in our profession to say that Freud always hoped psychoanalysis would find itself on firm scientific footing, in which case his speculations would be replaced by biology and chemistry. My reading of Freud’s disclaimers about psychoanalysis is that it was his way of deferring the scientific question to some future time, thereby clearing a space for his more theoretical and often hypothetical, philosophical, and even novelistic pursuits. In my reading, he is being a bit sly, coy even.
I am the white Jewish mother of Black sons. My older child was called “the N word” for the first time in Fire Island, New York, when he was three years old. The younger one was called “the N word” for the first time in Massachusetts when he was six.
It is Tuesday at 4:00 pm, and it is time for Ben, a white man in his early thirties. He often refers to himself as “strange” for feeling out of step in not holding popular, mainstream views like most of his friends. He feels like that is due to a lack in him, and this lack makes him feel on the outside of things. He does not feel lacking or strange to me but familiar. I find myself holding him in warmth and fondness.
“I was thinking to myself, I can’t wait to tell them. They’re going to be so excited!” Or maybe the patient didn’t say excited—maybe they used a different word. I can’t exactly remember because my mind got stuck on them/they’re. It took a moment before I realized the patient was referring to me. They referenced me not as her/she but them/they. My preferred pronouns. I was moved, for a moment, out of the shared space of the session, out of the patient’s experience and into my own. Something caught in my throat, my eyes watered just a fraction, and my heart skipped a beat. I felt fear; I felt gratitude. I slowly settled back into attunement with my patient, and though they remained on the screen, many miles away, I felt closer to them than before.
Many of us have had the experience of standing in front of the window of a hospital’s newborn nursery, a partition that simultaneously protects and allows visitors to gaze at the variety of human life displayed within. The tiny creatures, hatted in little ski caps, are only hours to days old, yet how distinct they are from one another as they sleep, squirm, smile, grimace, and cry. It’s fascinating in those early weeks, especially if the infant is a familial one, to watch the play of expressions that crosses its face and then shifts, calling to mind now the contemplative gaze of one relative and then the loopy smile of another—features that over time will coalesce into a more stable facial configuration.
Even though a virus is blind, we have learned, yet again, that like so many oppressive things, it disproportionately finds its way to those who are already suffering. I feel privileged that, during the coronavirus pandemic
The weather report had been dire—a nor’easter, heavy winds, rain. But the day opens sunny and light and warm. I get up from the room in which I have been working for the past ten months and walk into town: Sag Harbor, a village that goes back to the eighteenth century, curving main street, part of the whaling world of the East End of Long Island, now the sweeter part of the Hamptons, a spot for writers and artists back in the ’60s, a village with outlying neighborhoods including a middle-class African-American world, the space Colson Whitehead writes about in his novel Sag Harbor. I have had a house here for thirty years, so am a relative newcomer, and this past year I have been here more than ever before, moving through seasons, garden blooming and leaves falling, watching through the same set of windows as the light and the seasons change. I am both still and absorbed in a single red room and walking through the village, beaches and gardens, in a natural world that seems eerily benign.