Friday, April 29, 2011

Ritual and Retrogression

Timothy Corbin had been diagnosed with von Donnersmack’s syndrome, a psychological condition that prevented him from continuously internalizing his own age. Named after Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Donnersmack, the 19th century German chemist who first theorized its existence after observing the behavior of a student, it had developed in Timothy only very recently. One day, Timothy would be able to study as he normally had in the past. But the next day he would apply for Social Security benefits, thinking he would qualify as a retiree. And the day after that he would be at a playground riding the Merry-go-round without the cares of maturation and adulthood entering his mind at all.

Timothy’s unpredictable behavior quickly became a concern to his friends and family. His roommate, Chad Schmidt, had first noticed when Timothy began to watch PBS Newshour and Nickelodeon alternately with alarming frequency. Chad and Timothy had always shared a certain imaginative curiosity, but Chad could tell that his roommate was acting erratically even by their standards. Chad spoke to Timothy’s parents and helped his old buddy seek out a psychiatrist of good reputation. Even as Timothy started to receive the medical attention he desperately needed, the perpetual forgetting of his own age saddened Chad. Chad felt he might lose a friend. In the meantime that friend interfered with Chad’s ambition of inventing a new musical instrument. They would not be roommates for much longer.

The first psychiatrist that Timothy saw, in spite of his skillful manner, could not grasp the condition that burdened his new patient. For this reason, the psychiatrist decided to refer Timothy to Dr. T.M. Jiuliang, a specialist in rare psychological phenomena. Reports of Dr. Jiuliang’s notoriously intrusive methods concerned Timothy’s parents at first. But after Dr. Jiuliang’s accurately diagnosed Timothy’s disorder as von Dommersmack’s syndrome and explained to them that there is no cure or even a proven treatment, they gained a certain reluctant confidence in the renowned doctor.

Within weeks, Dr. Jiuliang had determined that talk therapy, psychotropic medicines and a variety of other traditional treatments were largely ineffectual in helping Timothy to remember his own age for more than twenty-four hours. Fortunately, inspiration struck Dr. Jiuliang in a moment of scientific rapture. He realized that Timothy’s amnesiac wanderings could be relieved by a kind of perpetual birthday celebration. By lighting the number of candles that corresponded to Timothy’s actual age on a birthday cake every day for the rest of his life, the worst effects of von Donnersmack’s syndrome could be avoided. Dr. Jiuliang thought the solution’s cost effectiveness, when compared to price of “shrinks or drugs,” might be its most beautiful aspect. And he had long held a deep appreciation for the power of ritual in the daily lives of men and women. Though he believed he had gained this understanding from reading Freud and Durkheim, as well as through his own observations and experiences, the insight had first been planted in his mind in elementary school when a particularly brilliant teacher had bestowed lessons about the great scientists of the past on her most promising pupils. His awareness of Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Donnersmack’s extensive writings on the subject of ritual remained inured in his subconsciousness ever since that time.

When Chad Schmidt felt frustrated with his stuttering and noisy contraptions, he would add or remove candles from Timothy’s birthday cake. But Timothy did not mind because occasionally forgetting his true vintage gave him an intense angle on mortality, like being confined to a room while the years passed by outside in every direction.
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