Monday, April 8, 2013

The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp

Having a child is one of the most joyous experiences in life.  The expectation, the plans and dreams, the worries—all in the anticipation of the arrival and unfolding of a new life.  Emily Rapp certainly had plans for her son, Ronin.  His birth was a joyous event and watching him grow and develop was a joy.  He was missing his milestones, however, and on the recommendation of their pediatrician, Emily and her husband took Ronin to a pediatric ophthalmologist.  It was at this appointment that they discover that their child has Tay-Sachs disease—an always fatal disease that will certainly kill their child before he emerges from toddlerhood.  The Still Point of the Turning World, the memoir of Rapp’s days with Ronin and the anticipation of his death, is a heartbreaking and moving examination of grief and motherhood.

It feels almost wrong to take a book about such a serious topic and dissect it like a moth on an etymologist’s table.  What resonated with me the most was the spare and simple fact that Ronin’s life had meaning, simply because he was alive.  He had all the dignity of every other living human being and was not merely a disorder.  Rapp’s experience in being an amputee and her insights into her own treatment helped me to understand that sometimes, even well meaning people say things that are insensitive to those who are suffering—as if they could ward off misfortune.  Her desire to make the ordinary meaningful and to give Ronin the best possible life was a true example of a “dragon mother”—a mother that had to nurture and deal with a death sentence for her child. No parenting books are written for that.

In many ways this book reads like poetry or a series of literary essays.  There are many quotes from books on grief and in some cases, there is quoted poetry.  Rapp is especially fond of the Frankenstein metaphor and it winds its way throughout the story.  In some cases, I felt as though these insights from other writers were powerful and timely.  (I cried reading, “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska.)  In other cases, the quotes became a bit tedious and hard to understand.  Her delving into different religions and philosophies to make meaning of her experiences was understandable, but I felt as though these were the weakest parts of the book.
In one part of the book, Rapp states that the words “I’m sorry” in the wake of such circumstances is one of her least favorite sentences.  In truth, I find myself wanting to say this sentence to her personally.  Instead, I will quote her own words back to her.  The Still Point of the Turning World “is a love story, which, like all great love stories, is ultimately a story of loss”.  The love story of Ronin and his family is not one that I will soon forget.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

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The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

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