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Guest Post by Patricia Budd
I never thought I would see the day when an entire chapter about a man counting the seconds into minutes into the hours of a day would captivate me so completely. I mean he was literally trying to count every second in a twenty-four hour stretch. Of course he couldn’t do it so much of the time was spent with his trying to figure out how to capture time – in order to be able to know the time of day. You see, the central character in the novel Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo, one Joe Bonham, had been mutilated in the War – World War I. What little is left of his body (no arms, no legs, blind, deaf and mute) is now useless. All that remains of the youth is his mind. Feeling completely isolated from the rest of the world he believes the concept of time will help connect him to the rest of humanity. He is so consumed by this task that when he finally figures out how to tell time (by the nurses movements in his life) he experiences a wave of joy that leaves his body feeling as if he is singing.
How was he to determine such a thing as time when he had no contact with the outside world? He had but one sense to rely on – feel. The nurse would touch him every time she came into the room. Using logic he reasoned that she must come to him 6 times during a 24 hour period and that she would mostly likely do the heaviest work earliest in the day. With this notion in mind he decided that when she bathed and changed his sheet it would be eight o’clock in the morning. This became his starting point. When she finally arrived to bath him he imagined a chalk board where he wrote down the number one; one for her first visit, one for eight in the morning. After five more visits he figured it was around four o’clock in the morning. From here he began his wait, wait for the change of temperature to register on what little open skin he had, the skin on the sides of his face, neck and ears. He will feel for the change in room temperature when the sunrises in the early dawn causing the coolness of the night to dissipate.
When this moment occurs it is like an epiphany in the young man’s life. “It felt as if the pores of his neck were actually reaching out to grab at the change to suck it in.” This transformation did not happen instantly, oh no, Trumbo manages to stretch out this critical moment for two more paragraphs as bit by bit the light of the morning sun’s rays tingle and ultimately burst “like a blaze of heat. It felt like his neck was seared burned scorched from the heat of the rising sun.” Time has reached out and touched him. Joe Bonham now knows how to tell when the sun comes up. From this day forth he will always know when he is in existence. A minor accomplishment that sends his body into rapture: “In his mind, in his heart, in whatever parts of him that were left he was singing singing singing.” Just being able to feel time, being able to now track the time of day, has given this man, a man who is nothing more than a lump of flesh laying like a slab of meat on a bed, a sense of joy that many of never attain in our entire lifetimes.
Man needs to “sing sing sing” with joyous rapture for his many lifetime accomplishments. These accomplishments by far exceed that of Joe Bonham and yet we revel not in our success, but indulge in our incompetence. From a book of greatest sorrow and defeat springs the key to greatest joy and harmony. Man must needs sing! Man must needs feel – learn to feel time and allow for the joy of the moment.
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