The mind is a curious thing. It can be both literal and figurative. The other night I saw the Broadway hit, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, with Alex Sharp starring as Christopher. It was a mind-bending production both because of the insight into his struggle as an autistic, mathematical genius, and also because of how well it was performed. I found myself laughing and crying simultaneously throughout the entire performance.

My tears were for all who share his struggles, and for their respective caregivers. My laughter was for the innocence and surprise of how Christopher sees the world. When a policeman investigating a disturbance on the train asked Christopher what he was doing, Christopher replied literally, “talking to you.” He didn’t mean to be funny, or fresh, but the literal way in which he interpreted the question, was curiously touching. In that moment, rather than understanding the severity of the circumstance, Christopher responded with the narrowest view of the situation.

While at times his mind was focused and calm, there were moments in the play when Christopher’s tolerance of external and internal noise went berserk. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition and drawn inside his mind.

Throughout the play Christopher is confronted by idioms like “You’ll catch a death of a cold.” Similarly if someone said “Be still,” he’d want to know for how long.

Expressions loaded with cultural meaning rather than literal directive are confusing to people lacking context or whose minds don’t process that way.

Spending time “inside” Christopher’s mind helped me develop a greater appreciation for the different ways people process and communicate. I left the play more curious than ever about the many ways in which our minds work.

How might your life experience be different if you could only interpret things literally?

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10 Responses to Curious

  1. Phyll says:

    Sounds like a fascinating play! I think most of us interpret some things literally, sometimes. I remember, when I was a child, Levi’s Jeans were all the rage. And, it was cool to shrink them to fit skin tight. So, when I heard it advisable to “sit in the bathtub wearing your jeans” I did just that—sans water. Yep, my older sister came home from a date and found me sitting in an empty bathtub. “What in the world are you doing”, she exclaimed? “Why, I’m shrinking my jeans!”

    ‘Nuff said.

    The point (of the play and, my story) is to be tolerant and accepting of people (and, animals, too) of WHO they ARE. We’re all different and each unique. Yet, all living Beings long for love, affection, friendship, understanding, and, above all, Acceptance–of who we are, AS WE ARE. Be kind to one another. Be kind to yourself.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Loved your story Phyll. It’s endearing and made me laugh out loud! Kind is a good word to practice – daily. And you do. Thanks, Eileen

  2. Hi Eileen, Your article on the play about a genius autistic person and the emotions of laughing and crying, while watching the play, are understandable. In our township in Pennsylvania the public schools provide children with learning and physical disabilities an education in a classroom setting, sometimes mainstreaming the children in the “regular” classroom. I am struck at how wonderful
    it is for all of the kids to learn and play, together, to encourage partnership and see development.

    Hurrah for the public schools! Also, our township provides a summer camp program for special needs kids and teens. My son Charlie worked, as a camp counselor for this program for many summers. He received checks and letters from parents, thanking him, profusely, for his wonderful guidance and leadership for their disabled kids. Charlie would tell me at the end of his day, if a child had a “fit”, uncontrollable behavior, or incident. Sometimes, the parent had to be called. Charlie was, truly, loved by the kids and other counselors. With his guitar in hand, he would play and sing for the kids, encouraging participation and relaxation.

    I asked Charlie to write a book about his summers, thinking it would sell and would inspire
    other communities to put such a summer program in place. Charlie did not want to write a book!
    “I will outline the content for you”, I chimed in. The subject is so important, I thought and felt.

    Well, Charlie went on to other jobs, scholarships at a nationally elite prep school, scholarships at
    college, awards from these institutions for his Economics, Music, Sports, on and on accomplishments. For years and years he mentored kids all kinds of problems. Charlie is so
    special, just like my Dad.

    My Dad developed an entire network of schools in early education. The industry called him
    their “grandfather”. Granted he did have graduate work in education and had plenty of experience in
    the Federal Government and private sectors. My Dad was special– no one can top him.

    It was one of my dreams to have three schools for young children, pre K. I did not follow through
    with my aspirations, although I did work on consulting assignments in my post MBA years with several education companies, owned by The New York Times Company years ago.

    Someday, I may have a school of my own. Someday, I may encourage another member of the
    family to write about their valuable work. Books, articles, good tv programs help people make
    decisions, feel understood and move forward.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Wow! What a great son you have! And father too. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. I’m glad to know this vein of passion in your family, Elaine. There is so much that needs to be done, and good people like you and your family are helping to make a real difference. Thank you!

  3. Phyll says:

    P.S. How does the word, “Dog”, in the title, fit/factor into the play?

  4. Paul Binder says:

    Yes Eileen, extraordinary theater. A wow evening…laughing and weeping and simply excited that the theater can be a very satisfying event,



  5. eileenrockefeller says:

    So glad to know you saw it too, Paul. Like the Big Apple Circus, it had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Hope to see you again before too long. All best, Eileen

  6. Hi Eileen, Your article has moved me to undertake a “whirl wind” of theater dates in NYC, sometime, soon. I will include the play you wrote about. Thank you!

  7. eileenrockefeller says:

    Cool! Let me know what you think!

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