Wednesday, October 17, 2012

31 for 21 -~ Day Seventeen

“A character is defined by the kinds of challenges he cannot walk away from. And by those he has walked away from that cause him remorse.”  ― Arthur Miller

Today is Arthur Miller’s birthday.   For nearly six decades of his life, Miller created characters that wrestled with power conflicts, personal and social responsibility, the repercussions of past actions, and the twin poles of guilt and hope. 

I look at the above quote and I wonder about the personal struggles Arthur Miller, the man, had in his own life.

You see, the Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony Awards winner who always put into question "death and betrayal and injustice and how we are to account for this little life of ours." had a secret that he lived with from 1966 until his death in 2005. 

Arthur Miller and his third wife,Inge Morath, had a son named Daniel.  Daniel was born with an extra chromosome. Daniel had Down syndrome.  He was born in November 1966 and at a week old, was placed in an institution and removed from Arthur Miller’s life.

It has been noted that Inge wanted to keep the baby, but Miller was adamant that it had to be sent away. Daniel was institutionalized soon after his birth, spent his infancy at an institution in New York City, and the entire rest of his childhood at the Southbury Training School for retarded children in Connecticut. In an article in Vanity Fair, it is reported that Inge visited the boy regularly at Southbury, but his father never did, and eliminated him from his life entirely, never mentioning his existence in public nor in his autobiography Timebends. 

Inge would visit her son often.  She never let him go.

Despite the limitations of life in Southbury, Daniel grew up to be a very bright and charismatic young man. 

Arthur Miller's decision was entirely common for people of his time and for society at large. Whereas, I had not the slightest hesitation ever about raising Emma Sage at home, my generation was very different in this regard from my parents' generation. Among the generation that grew up before World War II, it was normal to institutionalize developmentally disabled children, and in fact physicians often advised parents to do so.

Arthur Miller, born in 1916, belonged to the generation which carried this mindset.

Different axioms lead in a different direction, regardless of propriety. Anne de Gaulle, born in 1928 with Down syndrome, was the daughter of the young officer Charles de Gaulle and his wife Yvonne. Anne was never separated from her parents throughout her life, and her father always made time to spend with her. Famously chilly and formal in public, the General was reputed to be warmer and more outgoing with Anne. When she died at the family home of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, General de Gaulle said simply: "Maintenant, elle est comme les autres." [Now, she is like the others.]

What produced these remarkable post-WWII changes in conventional social attitudes?   I don't understand how it took place in detail. But, like everything else associated with the "baby boom" generation, the clues must lie in the 1960s and 1970s, during which I spent my childhood and youth.

Whilst the change has shifted to embrace our children with Down syndrome, the underlying fear of disability is still alive and well in our society.  Our children are out in the light……they are Living, Loving, Growing and Thriving and they are valued members of our families and communities.

But there still lies darkness; as Eugenics is still ever present, especially in regards to the prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21/Down syndrome.

Today we celebrate the birth of a man who wrote with conscience, clarity and compassion.  A man for whom it was not discovered until after his death held a powerful and tragic secret.

“A character is defined by the kinds of challenges he cannot walk away from. And by those he has walked away from that cause him remorse.” ― Arthur Miller

Just before his death, Miller did something that indicates that he was validating his son.  By acknowledging him by changing his Will to include Daniel as his rightful heir and son.  A full quarter share of the estate, no more or no less than his three siblings.  It is also noted that Miller visiting his son in the last years of his life.  In my heart-of-hearts, I hope that is true.

The most important part of this story is that Daniel transcended his father's failures: "He's made a life for himself; he is deeply valued and very, very loved. What a loss for Arthur Miller that he couldn't see how extraordinary his son is." States the woman who Daniel has lived with most of his adult life. 

It was a loss that Arthur Miller may have understood better than he let on………and I wonder if this story could have been Arthur Miller’s greatest unwritten play.
"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets." ~Arthur Miller

Click Here for the Vanity Fair article: Arthur Miller's Missing Act

1 comment:

Becca said...

I read that Vanity Fair article a few years ago, and loved it. Amazing story. Thank you for sharing it here and reminding people of the shift in thought over the years, and the way some of the older generation may still view things.