Dr. Steven Gardner’s “Jabberwocky”
Dr. Steven Gardner’s new memoir, Jabberwocky: Lessons of Love from a Boy who Never Spoke, on its face seems to follow a growing trend of memoirs by parents of non-mainstream children to humanize and individualize, but goes up and beyond by way of Gardner’s own professional avenues. An assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard University and former medical director at the Massachusetts Special Olympics, Gardner balances the more clinical aspects of the book (i.e. specified passages on neurosocial engagement like ‘emotional touch’) with genuinely heartfelt, moving, and inspirational passages about how his own son, Graham, challenged and ultimately triumphed against adversity in his twenty-two years on Earth. It’s a story that is universal in some ways, despite the surface-level alienation that Gardner and others continue to challenge the reader on. Books like Jabberwocky are ideal because they present the evidence, but without sacrificing the emotion. When do we stop looking at afflicted individuals who may be different categorically, and recognize the individual within?
A summer in Martha’s Vineyard, precisely at a special needs summer camp surnamed ‘Jabberwocky’, changed the Gardner family’s lives forever. It enabled Graham in spite of his disabilities to successfully engage happy, healthy, mainstream activities and draw his shining self to the forefront. It’s passages like these that make other parts of the book, some on the precipice of being unbearably sad, so beautiful. Regardless of innate challenges, Graham Gardner was and is remembered as an individual first.
As his father beautifully quotes at the beginning of the book, “…your mom memorably said, being around (you) was ‘like having the sun shine on your whole being’…” This lays the contextual and foundational pillars for how Gardner subsequently documents the highs and lows, with the pacing and narrative skills of a master storyteller, juxtaposed with keen medical and developmental psychology-based insights and recommendations. It’s rare to successfully have a work that integrates so many things in one, but Gardner manages to do it seamlessly and as a result Jabberwocky is only that much richer and compelling.
At the end of the day, books like Gardner’s Jabberwocky also serve as a form of social activism. They force you to see beyond a person’s ailment, while making said ailment understandable. It’s hard after reading something like Jabberwocky to continue to deny the often callous and inflammatory disregard many people have for those underprivileged by their body. But it is also a rousing call to action, and again here we touch on the book’s universal themes, as Graham Gardner triumphs over his adversities – and you can too. It’s a moving testament that nothing has to be written in stone, and with a willingness to learn, a willingness for adaptability, and a willingness to see the forest for the trees, anything is possible.