Skip to content

the jewish kid, harry

Dark seas

He was named Aristotle – We nicknamed him Harry for short.

Aristotle Van Den Brink. A undernourished and orphaned child deposited into the yard of Bondi Public just a few years after Hitler traded his 1,000 year Reich for a transitory few seconds of fiery death in that Berlin bombsite.

Harry the Jewish kid who watched what we did with his old womans’ eyes, and who would never leave the high brick walls of the schoolyard when all us boys were loosed out there to play three times a day. He hid his hands behind his back, he never chased a ball.

Leaning back there against the layered and stacked stone, one side of him shaded and safe, and he watched us all his young years away.

Later in his teenage years Harry would sit under the pines at South Bondi, up on the hill beneath the Astra Hotel and he would count the waves that we either caught or missed. Same pine every day. His foster parents were kind enough to provide him with a plastic raincoat in wet weather sometimes, and there he sat seven days out of seven when was able to – until someone came and collected him.

So many waves a minute, so many waves an hour

The multitude of them that glided shorewards in a day.

Or the uncountable thousands that broke unseen at night, every night.

Harry was figuring the time it might take to meet Eternity. The small boy under the tree.

‘ That’s where we will meet ‘ his mother had promised him, yelled at him as she was brutally tumbled down the old stairs by the five Geheime Staatspolizei who came by for her at the ordained time of 3 am.

‘ After that night I would lay awake and count my breaths,  ‘ he told me once, for we have long been friends.

‘ All night. There was blood on the stairs when I went down next morning. Nobody else heard anything.‘

His abacist fingers fluttering in their ceaseless numbering as the night drew through the long hours after midnight.

Eternity is a number to Harry, a number yet to be reached. A result, and I feel that it might be the last one he manages before is reunited with his young mother. Despite his sempiternal preoccupation Harry is no mathematical atheist.

We sat together at Palm Beach last weekend, two somnambulant old men sat on a wooden bench amongst the kite-surfers praying for more nor-wester and the kids waxing up with the expectant weekend fever of a good wave up in the corner.

‘ Imagine, ‘ he asked me ‘ imagine the task of counting every grain of sand underfoot here. ‘

We looked down at them under our feet, bloody millions!

‘ And then, ‘ he continued in his soft way, ‘ imagine counting every grain on the entire beach, and in the park, and all those carried away in cars over the last 30 years. Tourists travelling from here to all corners of the earth. Imagine.

Then all the grains in the dunes and offshore, from here to Manly.

Every grain. Every one. Count them. Imagine.’

We walked up to the lighthouse track one day, both of us following the tyre tracks of a ranger’s ute and Harry bent down over the tyre pattern in the sand convinced that the sculptures there were man made. Perfectly made, made overnight with the thousand year patience of a man lost to time.

Harry doesn’t often look anyone in the eye, but this time he gave me the full benefit of his clear gaze. Look, he said, look here.

He has been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and he will not see Christmas.


Savant syndrome, sometimes abbreviated as savantism, is not a recognized medical diagnosis, but researcher Darold Treffert describes it as a rare condition in which persons with development disorders (including autism spectrum disorders) have one or more areas of expertise, ability, or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual’s overall limitations. Treffert says the condition can be genetic, but can also be acquired.

According to Treffert, about half of persons with savant syndrome have autistic disorder, while the other half have another developmental disability, mental retardation, brain injury or disease. He says, “… not all autistic persons have savant syndrome and not all persons with savant syndrome have autistic disorder”. Other researchers state that autistic traits and savant skills may be linked, or have challenged some earlier conclusions about savant syndrome as “hearsay, uncorroborated by independent scrutiny”.

Though it is even more rare than the savant condition itself, some savants have no apparent abnormalities other than their unique abilities. This does not mean that these abilities weren’t triggered by a brain dysfunction of some sort but does temper the theory that all savants are disabled and that some sort of trade-off is required.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Mike #

    Mathematical atheist, wow.

    Funny how definitions never define normalcy, are we not all normal to ourselves?

    I counted those waves at night once and decided to join them in the quiet. Daytime surfing is so filled with the hubris of humanity. Darkness reduces the equation to muscle memory and instinct. Pure and beautiful. Quiet.

    June 5, 2011

go ahead

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: