Christy Nolan has been called a genius, his writings placed on a level with James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Dyan Thomas. He has also been called an idiot and been condescendingly praised as “a diamond in the rubbish bin.” He described himself quite simply as a cripple. He cannot walk or talk. He communicates by eye movements and facial gestures. TO write, his mother straps a “unicorn stick” to his forehead and steadies his chin as he slowly and laboriously aims the stick at his typewriter keys.
Christy Nolan’s talents received much attention and garnered lavish praise last year when his second book, Under the Eye of the Clock (distributed in Canada by McClelland and Stewart) won a prestigious British literary award. His success is a wonderful tribute not only to his own talents but also to his family who did not turn their backs on their severely disabled son. I got a glimpse into the kind of perseverance and love of his parents and sister in reading “The Silent Voice of Christy Nolan” by Monica Dickens, published in a recent Reader’s Digest.
Born in Ireland in 1965, Christy barely survived a difficult Caesarian birth which left him with cerebral palsy. His mother says that she only once wept over his disability, “he was three years old, but he cried tears of a sad man” she said. His mother, Bernadette, said she told him, “You can see, you can hear, you can think and you can understand every thing you hear. Dad and I love you just as you are, and where ever we go, you’ll come. “Christy wrote of Bernadette, “his mother it was who treated him as normal,” she “tumbled to his intelligence, tumbled to his eye-signaled talk.”
When he was seven, the family moved to Dublin from rural Ireland so that Christy could attend a special school. He began writing at the age of 11 when a new drug helped steady his often violent head spasm and his mother invented his unicorn stick and patiently held him for hours as he learned to type. His latest book is in a long line of poetry and short stories that have also won awards, beginning when his first book was published when he was 15.
Christy has his own language which Monica Dickens describes. “If he look at the ceiling light, it would mean love or loving, or another word beginning with “I.” Other upward glances could mean God or heaven, or perhaps death. The listener has to keep guessing. If he looks up at the crucifix on the wall and then at your throat, that’s a priest (in a clerical collar). He looks down at his shoulder for a word beginning with “s,” or a little farther back towards the strop that holds him in his chair to indicate something about his handicap.”
This article naturally focuses on Christy and his talents but every so often there is a tiny glimpse at his obviously extraordinary mother, who Monica Dickens describes as “gentle and modest.” Because his father works full time, Dickens reports that it is Bernadette who is Christy’s constant companion. She “went everywhere to be Christy’s voice, and astonished herself by coping with television and radio, and making a speech at the Women of the Year lunch in London.”
Many pregnant women wonder how they will manage if their child is disabled. I know I did. I feel enormously grateful that my capabilities were never challenged in this way. I am not at all sure that I would have had the strength of Bernadette Nolan – or the countless other mothers who find a special love for their special children. It must take extraordinary devotion and patience, to search for adequate education; to spend hour after hour developing a language; to stand over someone, cradling his chin as he writes; to learn to speak at public functions. While Christy obviously has an extraordinary talent, it is his mother who has been responsible for nurturing it and helping it to develop.
Yet neither Christy nor Bernadette appear to see themselves as extraordinary people. “When fame, first came to him,” Dickens writes, “he feared it would “create a monster out of me.” But it has not spoiled him, or his mother. Bernadette says: “I’ve still got to go upstairs every morning and lift this young man into the shower, as if he were a child.”
Monica Dickens ended her article with a message typed by Christy, sent to everyone like himself. Christy’s message has meaning for us all.
“Never compare your life to others. Try to look at what is positive within yourself. Beauty is but a tag, hope is far better and longer lasting. Love your own interior image and respect your soul’s feeble joy. Remember too that you will never have to bear the burden of being “able-bodied” but the seeming fortunate may one day suddenly find themselves bearing the golden label – cripple.”
Notice to parents with children enrolled in City of Toronto Public Schools (Elementary and secondary)
On May 28, 1988, the Toronto Board of Education voted to establish “a counseling programme for students in human sexuality issues” that would include “such sensitive issues as gender-identity and heterosexual and homosexual relationships.” No age or grade level was specified. Thus, the door has been opened for counseling that could reinforce homosexual behaviour and give birth control and abortion referral advice.