My twisted logic told me that the more I gave Matty now, the more I could ask of him later, and there will, inevitably, come a time when I will need to ask for so much more help. It will be hard to ask for and, often, hard for Matty to give. My son, too, will suffer as I suffered watching my mother, my heart torn with worry for all she endured. Less often do I, to my detriment, reflect on what she gained by loving my stepfather through the end of his life. I forget that the cat outside at night is fed by a community of loving others.
Worse, I failed to see that Matty’s performance explores care as a kind of fullness itself, a fullness that can come only from being inextricably bound to another person. A strong bond can hold freedom alongside responsibility, sacrifice, care. I can’t change the facts of my body, but I can change what I notice. I can stop conflating control over my future with control over the people I love. I try, with Matty, to feel the following truth: that all the inevitable worry, difficulty and even the resentment — it is all the product of love, an emotion big enough and strong enough to hold the others without breaking.
Later, back home in Brooklyn, Matty, my son and I attended someone else’s dance performance, which we felt was mostly about nothing. The work was polite, easy to watch, and we left unchanged. An artwork so free from effort had nothing to offer us. Why was it so hard for me transfer this observation to my relationship? I posed this question to Matty, voicing to him my many fears. He listened with great patience and then said, “Without awareness, without the willingness to confront the facts of our aging and changing bodies, without effort, love is an empty concept.”
Matty’s performance had been brutal, grueling and even challenging at times to witness. But the faces in Matty’s audience displayed deep feeling and, for my mother, the work had prompted a truth about care that was inaccessible through language, a truth that had to be felt to be perceived. In Dallas, I’d sat between my son and my mother, and I held their hands and together we watched Matty dance, and we left transformed, and we were grateful for Matty for offering us through his art such a hard-earned gift.
And what do I have to offer him? As I write this, Matty enters my office. He knows he’s the subject of my essay.
“What are you saying?” he asks.
“That I’m afraid.”
“I will take care of you,” he says.
“But it will become very hard.”