Erickson's Stories
"The Boy Will Be Dead By Morning"
I graduated from high school in June 1919. In August, I heard three doctors, in the other room, tell my mother, "The boy will be dead by morning."

(Erickson had his first poliomyelitis infection at age seventeen).

Being a normal kid, I resented that.

Our country doctor had called in two Chicago men, as consultants, and they told my mother, "The boy will be dead by morning."

I was infuriated. The idea of telling a mother that her son would be dead by morning! It was outrageous!

Afterwards, my mother came into my room, bland of face. She thought I was delirious, because I insisted that she move the large chest in my room, in order for it to be at a different angle beside the bed. She put it beside the bed one way and I kept telling her to move it back and forth, until I was satisfied. The chest was blocking my view through the window---and I was damned if I would die without seeing the sunset! I only saw half of it. I was unconscious for three days.

I didn't tell my mother and she didn't tell me.

Erickson told me this touching story in 1970, when I had come to him asking for help in improving my memory for names and in recovering childhood memories. I immediately recalled some childhood memories---of my own bout with a serious febrile illness, scarlet fever. But my desire for a better memory for names was not to be fulfilled. It was only later that I realized that he was indirectly suggesting that I accept this limitation. His suggestion was also conveyed in a story about his father's comment at his mother's funeral.

"And at my mother's funeral, my father remarked, 'It was nice to have seventy-four wedding anniversaries with one person. It would have been nicer to have seventy-five, but you can't have everything' ".

Through that story and also through the preceding one, he is telling us, indirectly, that we are lucky to be alive.

In his reference to the chest and the sunset, he was also conveying one of his favorite prescriptions for enjoying life, perhaps even for prolonging it!

"Always look to the real goal, in the near future."

In this case, his goal was to see the sunset. Of course, before this goal could be achieved, it was necessary to move the obstacle. Since Erickson could not do this himself, he needed to get his mother to do it. Significantly, he didn't tell her why he wanted the chest moved. It is not always necessary for us to give reasons for our actions. But is is necessary that we have goals---immediate and achievable.

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