I had no idea that Oliver Sacks was gay. Not that it matters. Or should, except:
It was then that my father, inquiring into my sexual feelings, compelled me to admit that I liked boys. “I haven’t done anything,” I said, “it’s just a feeling — but don’t tell Ma, she won’t be able to take it.” He did tell her, and the next morning she came down with a look of horror on her face, and shrieked at me: “You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born.”
Because of a thing that cultures have about who excites the joy of attraction in your heart, a parent could say of such a man, “I wish you had never been born.”
That is only a sidelight of his essay, goddess, it is a glorious essay, and it comes back to the Sabbath, let me note I never even appreciated that Sacks was observantly Jewish to any extent, contra his excellent and late colleague Harold Klawans who wrote neurology essays that made the heart leap and then sent fictional doctor heroes to Israel to find smoking guns, fun, yowza. But the Sabbath. It is, as we state, a Jewish concept but the world needs more testimony to the need for a still place in the cacophony of existence, and Sacks at the end of his life speaks more poignantly than anything I can begin to say of it.
MY mother and her 17 brothers and sisters had an Orthodox upbringing — all photographs of their father show him wearing a yarmulke, and I was told that he woke up if it fell off during the night. My father, too, came from an Orthodox background. Both my parents were very conscious of the Fourth Commandment (“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”), and the Sabbath (Shabbos, as we called it in our Litvak way) was entirely different from the rest of the week.
I wonder what that mother thought of herself when her son, whom she wished had never been born, became, well, Oliver Sacks. I wonder about everyone who can’t get past the prescribed ideas and see their children or merely people around them for who they are.
I just wish everyone could fucking get over it.
It’s a stunning article. Make time for it, if you can.