Shadow and sun

On the Yale campus.

On the Yale campus.

I experienced, first, very dark shadow, and then seven days later, bright, warm sunlight on the last two Saturdays. On the first I drove to a little suburb in Connecticut to attend a memorial service for a woman who  had taken  her own life a week and a half  before after several years of severe mental illnesses, which caused her, and her family, much agony. She was 26 and, just a few years earlier had seemed to have immense promise -- and the ambition to become a physician. She started to get very sick halfway through college.

The panorama of her  lost promise was vivid in the eulogies at the partly glass-walled church, which was closely surrounded by beautiful, if, given the season, austere woods. She had been a person of such  intelligence, energy and charm.

Her mental illnesses were of the type that tend to diminish in severity after age 30. If only she could have made it until then. God knows, her family and friends had spared no effort to try to help her.

But then, as a late neurologist friend of mine, Stanley Aronson, M.D., once observed to me: “We probably don’t know more than 5 percent of what we need to know about the human mind.’’

Then, on this past Saturday, I saw and heard a very different aspect of the human condition when my wife and I drove to New Haven to hear a harpsichord recital at the Yale School of Music. The recital, one of the requirements for obtaining a master’s degree on music at Yale, was by a young man, of the same age as the woman above, of great ability, confidence and stability, including in the face of occasional  serious outside challenges.

There he was, already seemingly headed for the broad sunlit uplands of  being a scholar and performer of an art of great beauty. As he performed amidst the Neo Gothic and Georgian brick  buildings of Yale that symbolize ambition and success (sometimes tinctured with pretension),  I ruminated on whether life should be called unfair or just arbitrary.

-- Robert Whitcomb