29 August 2009


“The study of angles and of the angular relationships of planar and three-dimensional figures ... .” Mathworld.
“ … sure wish folks could ever, ever understand that we ALL could learn so much from someone like Trig — I know he needs me, but I need him even more ... the world needs more "Trigs", not fewer.” Sarah Palin. 3 July, 2009 [Emphasis added].
So there’s trigonometry and trig functions (above, left), and then there’s Trig, the little boy with Down’s Syndrome. Ubiquitous math phobia notwithstanding, most would agree that the first two are useful. What about 21st chromosome trisomics? At least among their mothers, the majority view is thumbs down; most are aborted. That’s what makes Palin’s observation so remarkable and, to this author, himself the parent of a special needs child, so very genuine. Her critics, most of them not having had the experience, can hardly be expected to appreciate the plusses. What they do understand, albeit in many cases but vaguely, is that caring for a “special needs” child is difficult, time consuming and expensive.

It's also parenting for life. In the usual sense, most of these children do not grow up; conventionally, they do not fledge. Their bodies mature, of course – often abnormally and typically with a raft of attendant medical issues, the treatment of which is complicated by the underlying disorder. But intellectually, emotionally and behaviorally, they remain forever young. What waits after Mom and Dad is not the independence of adulthood, with its sundry trials and triumphs, but an existence at best sheltered, more often, neglectful, at worst, abusive. Indeed, when I first saw Sarah, having just delivered the best speech of the political season and holding her son, I could only wonder if she had any real idea as to what she was in for.

That uncertainty was set to rest by the remark quoted above. Like other parents who put their developmentally disabled child first and let the rest sort itself out, Sarah Palin understands that children like Trig bring purpose to life in ways that are both unique and uniquely fulfilling. Like Sarah, my son needs me, even as I need him. But unlike Sarah, no “rendezvous with destiny” looms in my future. You think the Palinophobes [emphasis on the second syllable] don’t sense that such an encounter awaits in hers? Of course, they do. It is the taproot of their rage; the prospect that appalls. Sarah will fight and triumph, God willing, for her son, and, in that victory, secure the future for us all.

Some say that the time evolution of complex systems is marked by unexpected twists and turns; others that the Lord works in ways mysterious. Take your pick. Trig is Sarah’s bow of burning gold; her arrows and her spear; her chariot of fire. With apologies to the spirit of Wm. Blake for changes (square brackets) to the original:

"[She] will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall [her] Sword sleep in [her] hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In [this, our great] & pleasant Land."

Surprisingly, there’s a path that leads from trig, the branch of mathematics, to Trig, the child. Along the way, there are stops at demography, mathematical optimization and medical ethics. Having followed it, we may better understand the tumult of August, 2009. [To be continued].

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