REVIEW: Dr. Steven Gardner — Jabberwocky: Lessons of Love from a Boy who Never Spoke (BOOK)
Dr. Steven Gardner is a rare hybrid of seasoned parent, compassionate advocate, and informed medical practitioner. His new book, both a memoir and something of a guide, is concisely titled Jabberwocky: Lessons of Love from a Boy who Never Spoke and like its title is decidedly upbeat. Gardner doesn’t shy away from the immense difficulties and pain that comes with trying to support a disabled child, but this is expertly tempered by his inspirational and moving accounts of his son’s transcending such difficulties by way of the extraordinary Martha’s Vineyard summer program Camp Jabberwocky. With the pacing of a novel, the book expertly navigates the stark juxtapositions between immense trial and soaring success, and in the process not only advocates for the potential of programs like Camp Jabberwocky, but also for the soul of someone who is afflicted.
With citations of medical evidence and a cool, calm bedside manner with respect to prose, Gardner succinctly argues the reader — and society at large — doesn’t forget the individual voices of these children. He can’t be dismissed because of his credentials, and said credentials never get in the way of his clear and present humanity, and his passion. While his son, Graham Gardner, sadly passed away at the age of twenty-two, he left behind the legacy of a fighter, survivor, and even victor. In the memoir portion of the book, Gardner never comes across as mourning the death of his son, but rather celebrating his spirit and the joy of his life. The tagline for the 1985 biographical film Mask comes to mind. ‘Sometimes the most unlikely people become heroes’.
You become fairly aware of how the book tonally balances its themes with the way Dr. Gardner beautifully eulogizes his son in Jabberwocky’s prologue. “Dear Bud,” he writes. “The world went on, as it always does when someone leaves it, but it was a far more wonderful place with you in it. Even all these words — 71,000 of them — cannot adequately express how it felt to be your father. Or how it feels now to go on living without you.” He adds, “As your mom memorably said, being around Graham Gardner was ‘like having the sun shine on your whole being’…” How many psychology, medical, and/or self-help books begin like that?
With such genuine, unabashed sentimentality? Similar to the evolution of the corporate model where the terms ‘success’ and ‘empathy’ have begun to enjoy a symbiotic relationship, there has been a gradual rising in humanization techniques with professionals’ approach to neurological and neurophysical issues. It’s finally beginning to dawn on the public at large that those afflicted with severe handicaps and ablest problems are individuals first, not a collective to be stereotyped nor marginalized, and second that such issues do not have to be certifications for certain ways of living. As his son Graham Gardner proved, perseverance and support is everything. It can make the difference between a life severely compromised and a life severely lived, and maybe even the difference between life and death itself.