If only I could write like Eye Can Write – Jonathan Bryan

13 May

Before committing my words to the page on Jonathan Bryan’s Spring Festival appearance, I felt trepidation. After spending an hour in the company of him and his family, I, like many others in the room, including our host, Matt, had been moved from tears to laughter to awe, as a result of his command of language and beauty of his prose.

Jonathan has severe cerebral palsy, a condition that makes him incapable of voluntary movement or speech. This disorder, until recently, blighted Jonathan’s ability to communicate subjecting him to a world of silence, where teachers and alike spoke to him loudly and simply in a tone that, in his words, is usually reserved for babies and foreigners.

It was not until the discovery of a life-changing eye-gaze spelling board that Jonathan was able to unlock the silence and close the void between him and the outside world. His first independently-spelled word was ‘myriad’, a word which ‘heralded the silence of those around him and the ending of his.’

Jonathan and Matt, photo © Fernando Bagué

Matt thanks Jonathan for attending the Spring Festival.

He was no longer an island: a term he used to refer to his classmates and self in the special school he attended a short distance from his home, an environment which to him had become a different country.

It was a country where he and his friends were forbidden from touching and interacting. Parked away from each other in their wheelchairs, teachers would sail between them like boats, communicating only between themselves and not those that they continually navigated around, extinguishing gazes between the pupils as swiftly as they began.

Jonathan thought himself forever lost to this world destined to be read toddler stories and watch pre-school television programmes for eternity by teachers who did little to serve his thirst for words, knowledge and escape.

But his saviour was to come from home – the family whose bond had always transcended speech, their communication intuitive. It was here that Jonathan found his voice in the safe confines of a loving environment, one demonstrated on stage by the presence of his younger sister Susannah and mother Chantal and, in the audience, father Christopher and youngest sister Jemima.

The Bryans and their carers, are a team fuelled by love and rewarded with words, as are all who meet and work with Jonathan. Michael Morpurgo, friend, fellow author, poet and playwright, interviews Jonathan who replies articulately and with good humour, gently teasing his author friend. On stage, Susannah stands in as his voice, reading with pride her elder brother’s words.

However, Jonathan told us, words are everything; they are speech, movement and expression of self. On the page, he can escape from the world he has been forced to inhabit, he can run, dance and explore. Words are the living embodiment of all his senses, enabling him to experience and be part of the world he was so desperate to communicate with.

On the introduction of his spelling board to answer questions, Jonathan’s face beamed, relishing the opportunity to speak and desperate for others in the same position to be given the same prospect. They too should not be subjected to endless pre-schooling, hence his charity Teach Us Too enables a ‘voice for the voiceless’.

Jonathan spelling board, photo by Fernando Bagué

Jonathan Bryan uses his spelling board to answer the audience’s questions.

It is difficult to fully express the brilliance of Jonathan, his work and family. He is not only extraordinary in writing talent, not just as a disabled teenager, not just as a teenager, but on an adult level too – Spring Festival director, Matt Holland, called him a ‘prodigy’ – but an inspiration to all who he encounters. His eloquence with words, his tenacity to continue the fight for himself and others is a rarity. In today’s world, it is easy to lose heart and perspective as we are bombarded with stories of sadness and uncertainty. Jonathan’s story, in his book Eye Can Write, is the perfect remedy.

He is a young teenager who paints the world with his words and help others picture the environments we inhabit. Jonathan’s voice is a gift not only to him but us the reader. And I for one feel lucky to have heard his first hand.

Song of Voice – by Jonathan Bryan, from Eye Can Write

An adept fingers point

My silent soul emerges,

Like the dawn blackbird’s song

Suddenly breaking the black

Music buried in the mind

Sings melodies divine

Of ancient tales yet untold

Unfurled to men astound

Whose beauty hears my voice?

What depths saddened my pathway?

Soaring eagles spread wings

I fly to my destiny.

Jonathan Bryan appeared at the Swindon Spring Festival, 11 May 2019, at Swindon Arts Centre.

Words by Emma Smith. Image © Fernando Bagué

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: