Good Narrative Principles

Parting the Red Sea


IMG_5818The relentless need to adapt, to speak a new language, to find a new supply of cigars, irritated Sigmund. Unhinged him. Recently, in the lull of late afternoon, Sigmund made it a habit of slipping away from the prying eyes of his wife, his children and staff, to take his grandson, Lucian, for a walk among the nearby gardens. Lucian was indeed a wild child and required a daily walk the same way a golden retriever needed exercise least it chew up the furniture. But Freud’s insistence on taking his irascible grandson to the park had little to do with familiar obligations. Conversation among the family at dinner invariably drifted to the subject of Lucian and the need to enroll him in a respectable boarding school. But Freud would not hear of it.

With his grandson’s mouth running in pursuit of lost thoughts, Freud was finally able to relax a bit. Freud hoped that by free-associating in concert with Lucian, he might finally find a way to process the monumental loss accruing around him. His four sisters were still in Vienna, as were his beloved books and precious antiques, all of which grounded him in the truth of his ideas.

More than anything, Sigmund longed for the early days, when his most promising adherents elevated his stature to that of a genius. He wished he could trade in today’s hard won security for just one honey-glazed Wednesday afternoon, when the sharpest minds in Europe gathered to chew over his latest insights, smoke a cigar and share a strudel (preferably millirahmstrudel, Freud’s favorite).

He had underestimated the hunger for Thanatos that fed the rising Nazi party, just as he had underestimated the cancer now chewing up his left jaw. How could he have missed so much?

Lucian was swinging a large stick, delighting in its heft and ability to annihilate all enemies in his path; be it Japanese knotweed or the innocent koi swimming in the pond nearby. Lucian shouted some gibberish in English about Moses parting the Red Sea. The idea of Moses, his early success as a liberator and then his forty years of wandering in the desert with nothing to occupy him but the gathering of manna (which Freud pictured as cotton candy) and settling endless squabbles among the tribe, appealed to Freud.

Yes, here was an historical precedent that might help him come to grips with his own dilemma. Before their return from the park, Freud had already sketched out the first chapter.

And with that, he sent Lucian packing. A year later, Lucian would be expelled from boarding school for disruptive behavior. But that story belongs to Lucian not his grandfather.

(Painted by: Tim Duch)

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