Sunday, October 18, 2009

Big Red Ball

Today Alexander and I took Paul out to the park, just like last Sunday. When we got to his nursing home he was dressed with his lunch sitting on a table beside his bed but he was sleeping. It's a bummer when you tell folks to be sure to get him out to the cafeteria to eat each day and then find him sleeping away at 1pm. Look I know they have a lot tougher wheelchair cases to look after so Paul is easy to ignore. Nonetheless, he needs to get up and walk around. 

We took him to a local park and brought Alexander's big red bouncy ball. Last week Alexander and I threw the ball around a bit while Paul sat on a bench. When Alexander grew tired of this he sat and read his Jedi Masters book for awhile and I tried throwing the ball with Paul. It was a hit! 

For you that don't know Paul's condition currently, he has little energy for walking , though he does it okay, he's not too steady on his feet but he certainly isn't ready for a wheelchair. He also has a thing where he often has one eye closed at all times, something the neurologist calls a tic. 

Once Paul and I started throwing the ball back and forth that eye suddenly opened. He stood up straight and was a whiz with the big red ball. All of his bending over stopped and he was a good judge of the spacial relationship between us, throwing the ball at appropriate speeds and lengths on every pass. It was pretty remarkable considering his deteriorated physical condition. 

I had an idea: if his brain worked better while playing ball maybe we could expand it into the verbal realm. We played a game he now calls: word association catch. Throw the ball say a word and the next thrower returns the ball with a word or phrase related to the first. He sounded more like Paul then the attempts I've had at conversing with him.  Beach became Brian Wilson, San Francisco became Grateful Dead and so forth. 

We've actually stumbled on a way to talk. Today we brought little Alexander into the mix and everyone got involved. 

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Yesterday I got an email from an artist that has been asked to do my portrait for a city sponsored event. He wanted to know what the three most influential artists have been in my life. These kinds of questions are always difficult to answer and the decisions often change. I picked three artists that have been with me since I was a child, and somehow still move me. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, The Beat Writers: primarily Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and a painter named Chesley Bonestell.  

When I was five years old my mother bought me a piece-meal collection of encyclopedias from the local Lucky's grocery store in Hermosa Beach. Several of the books included some of Chesley Bonestell's work. One of my favorites was his depiction of the Earth's early days with oceans full of red lava and asteroids falling into the atmosphere. Who wouldn't like that? But my favorite, the one that inspired a great deal of wonder, was a picture at the end of one of the books. It's an imagining of the Beta Lyrae star system which includes two star bodies toiling in a difficult relationship, they exchange material and share a common atmosphere. It's an eclipsing binary with one star basically pulling all the material from the other. 

I'm not sure what drew me to these torrid pictures at age five. Sometimes art can speak for us in ways that words can't.  And help us process complex feelings. So too with music. And sometimes with playing ball. 


  1. so touching.I went through the ball thing with my mom and dad. I could never get my brothers to take it seriously. I think the ball thing is something we can all use not just the patient. Hang in there. It's tough.

  2. The big red ball is a great way to bridge the communication gap. Happy here that you have discovered this new family activity.

  3. Hi Cindy,

    I'm new here, and am thrilled you have decided to blog about your experiences, especially with Paul. When reading this post, I felt my heart sinking. I haven't felt butterflies in my stomach for some time. This post really touched me. I'm glad Paul had a few lucid moments, and that you and your son had the opportunity to share it with him.

    Best Wishes