When worlds come near
And magic clears
The clouds to form
A halo on the water,
When light reflects
And no distance
And heavens —
(Super Moon, this past June).
We have likely all been told that “the best things in life aren’t things.” It rings true enough, and it feels nice to say it–to know that someplace it is Truth–and yet the knowing gets askance too often. Not because we don’t believe the veracity of the declaration, but because it is difficult not to value “stuff” or to ignore the very tangible importance of “things.”
It is not about possessiveness or being greedy, even: “stuff” does very much keep us alive. We all need food, shelter, clothing, blankets to keep us warm, diapers for the baby, books and school supplies, dishes, pots, good shoes. We may need–in varying necessities–phones and computers, cars or bikes or Metro-cards, refrigerators, a place and way to cook, wash our bodies and our clothing. We certainly all require clean water, healthy air, protection from the elements, from violence and harm. We need care in time of illness.
(For more about helping provide clean water, check: Charity:Water)
In our Westernized, motorized, modernized, accessorized life, we may indeed require quite a few “things” to allow us to get to, do, and keep our job. We need to put aside resources for a rainy day (and may need gutters and galoshes for a similarly more literal day, too). We better save for retirement, consider life insurance to protect dependents if we have them, ask for a raise if we had earned it, quote fair payment for our services.
It is easy to look at sayings about “the best things in life aren’t things” as overall smile-worthy but not terribly practical realities. Something to say when one wants to comfort another who lost their life’s saving in a market crash, their house to a fire, or their designer boots to slushy sidewalks. It is something to tsk-tsk about when a “thing” awakens the small green nibbling worm of jealousy, or when we witness outright excessive greed.
And yet, even with the “things” we need and the “stuff” we want and the possessions we accumulate, require, and acquire–the Truth remains: The best things in life indeed are not things. No matter how much we need things, items, technology, materials and goods and measurable contents; these items are not what a best life make.
Connection does. The togetherness of happy moments. The contentment of a job-well-done or of creative engagement. The giggle of a baby, the eye-contact that brings on an attack of silly belly-laugh. The exhalation of waves upon the sea, the whisper of leaves in the forest or the big-sky of the prairie. These are the makers of best lives.
As is Love, as is Beauty. The warm breath of a sleeping toddler in your arms. The mere presence of a loved one. A memory of fondness. A swell of gratefulness. The depth of prayer. Awe. Hope. Faith. More love.
Those are the things that are not things and yet make the “stuff” we need, worth having. They give meaning to keeping our bodies and our souls connected, help us get through the times when “things” turn scarce and worries many. They make life thrive. They are how tapestries of hearts are woven.
The running feet of little ones, the concentration on their earnest faces. The solving of a pesky problem. An ‘aha’ of understanding. A common bond. The wonder of belonging, rather than belongings. The sweetness of a ripe fruit. The saltiness of tears overflowing a full heart. The blessing of knowing.
May the things that are not things keep a full presence in your soul’s pantry, may your mind be rich, and may you never go bereft of wonderment and heart-ship.
If there’s anything we can learn from the media’s flurry over Woody Allen’s family, choices, priorities, and consequences, let it be about the all too frequent realities of children’s unnecessary pain …
My letter to the Editor of the NYTimes, published today:
May no child be left bereft of knowing where to turn or have their needs frozen away, obscured by others’ closed minds or hearts.
Let the sun rise on mornings
After nights of the soul
Long and dark
Cold with fury and worry
Seeking hold on
Let the sun rise on mornings
My heart friend
Our hearts know
There are quarries
Let the sun shine
Bright as dawn on the sea
Fast to shed
All the fretting
Laughing, bursting to be.
Let the sun rise on mornings
One more time
Or few more
There are tides still awaiting
To curl foam
On your shore.
Let the sun rise
Have no fear
Time goes on.
It’s the soul deep within you
Knows the way
As it may
Let the road
Take you home
Let the path
Call your spirit
Let the sky
Draw your eye
To the line
To the fairies
Do not fear
The dark road
Do not fret
Paths so endless
There are stairs
Up to heaven
There are rails
Bound for home
Let the road
And a handhold —
As the road
Marks your steps
Leads the way
Takes you home.
The little boy had a difficult beginning. Born unwelcome, left at an orphanage in a rural area overseas, raised in a crib in a room full of other babies in cribs–bereft of stimulation or affection or even much in the way of nourishment, when funds at the orphanage were low.
He was among the fortunate ones who survived infancy, and was adopted at age two, to parents who showered all the love they had on him and then found that they had even more to give when that threatened to run out. He was not easy to care for, you see. Unresponsive, non-communicative, alternately rubbing himself against their legs like a kitten, squirming to get off, or slumping like a lump of potatoes in their arms. He either cried inconsolably or stared stoically. He would eat things that should not be eaten and hide foods that should. He could not fall asleep unless he was in an empty bed, never a quiet room, and only after a long while of rhythmic head banging. He barely spoke. Only sometimes responded to his name. It was not looking good.
Fortunately, these parents had excellent instincts, stout souls, and good guidance. They sought help to know how to best assist a child so traumatized that he had learned to take himself away to cope. How to support a child who did not know others could be relied on. How to guide into love a child who did not recognize affection as markers for attachment or caring. They did not believe those who said that their son was autistic. “Maybe he is,” they argued, “but how could we know if he’s autistic, if he never had a chance to truly communicate?”
They sought other opinions and took him to speech language therapy and sensory therapy. They went to counseling themselves–there was much heartbreak to deal with in finally having a child and finding him unwelcoming of love. They looked for help with someone who understood developmental trauma and the adjoining dissociation that often follows–they wanted to know more how to best support him. They knew just loving him more was not enough: they had to find a way to help him process what he’d lived before he could find hope to live differently. Together with professionals, they worked to help give voice to what had none, they walked with him along the story of his lost beginning and his suffering and his strength and masterful coping and his current safety. He needed to know it in all of his being before he could trust it. Gently, they helped him heal.
Persistent gentle kindness integrated with knowledgeable attention and direction helped. The child bloomed. He is no longer checked out from his world, or words, or feelings. He’s in first grade now. Still closing gaps in language and communication, and he may always carry scars from his early years and a plausible exposure to substances before birth that make it difficult for him to regulate his body’s reactions and excitement. However, a more affectionate little boy you would be pressed hard to find. He’s happy. He knows he’s loved.
Not too long ago we were busy with a task where we listed things one does in the morning, or after school, or on weekends, or in a mall, or a park, or before going to sleep at night. To the last he said: “take a bath, brush my teeth, read a book, put my head on mama or papa’s chest.”
I smiled at that–the mom told me that they had a nightly routine where they’d cuddle, making up for the many lonely nights of empty cribs and no arms to rock him. They would snuggle together for a while, let him use them as a pillow, then kiss him goodnight. The parents had held him most the night when he was younger, once he let them.
The boy nodded at me, maybe taking my quiet smile as a sign that he needed to convince me of the veracity of what he was saying, or its importance. “Mama is softer, …” he continued, “and papa’s chest boo-booms louder. I like it. It makes me feel nice inside and it helps me not feel like I have to bang my head.”
Be loving, be compassionate.
Let your heart break if it must–for it will, possibly often–it softens the edges as the heart expands along the broken places to make room to hold more love alongside an improved understanding of tenderness. Heartbreak is the process of growing.
Let your heart smile whenever it can–there is much joy to find, even in the midst of hardship–it warms the spirit and fills the tender places with the bubbly gentleness of connection. It makes the insurmountable, possible. It makes aches be shared. It lightens the burden others carry.
Be kind. Be patient. Understand hardship. Accept pain. Offer comfort. Withhold judgement: there is no weakness in need.
We all need one another, at one time or another. The cycle of life turns so that where you might have needed to be held, you are now called to do the holding. And it is as it should be. It is as it was meant to be all along even if we could not know before.
This is how we all are–all connected, interwoven through lifetimes of experiences and shared moments together. Moments pass, shift, change; the connection lasts forever. No matter where life takes you–or the other–heart care does not become undone. It becomes a foundation, a tapestry of souls and knowing, a universe of kindness intertwined.
Hold tenderly to those close to your soul, deepen the love you have for them even as you open your heart to include more and more people. You can do this. You will find the room: hearts stretch. Your heartstrings will grow long and many, and you’ll be richer for it. Worry not. Hearts that practice holding more compassion can contain more love than you ever thought possible … and can grow more loving still.
Kindness matures the heart and raises it. Love heals. Cultivate kindness. Fund love. It is the currency of human nature in its best. It is what makes us who we truly are.
This is a wonderful talk. Inspiring, and well worth the time. Rachel Kolb does a brave, important thing in this talk. Watch it, and let your children watch it, too. Tell your colleagues. If you are a teacher–it is a must. If you work with children–watch it. You will be happy that you had.
It is a talk about deafness, but it is not only about deafness. It is about abilities and what we can do and what we worry we cannot and how this in of itself can limit us. It is also about the realities of difference and the many challenges that children (and families) face. It is about the barriers for communication and interaction and how they manifest throughout the domain. It is about the scope of issues that cascade from deafness (and can from other disabilities, as well).
It is about a lot of what still needs to change, and can. In 90% of families of deaf children born to hearing parents, the parents do not learn to communicate effectively (i.e. sign) with their child. Deaf children born to hearing parents are less likely to develop fluent writing skills than those born to deaf parents. It is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding. Where communication suffers, attachment suffers, and abilities suffer. Communication MATTERS.
“Never put limitations on that child,” the Speech Therapist of a then 18 months old Rachel Kolb told her mother. I like that clinician without ever having met her! Because she was right, and because she said Truth: we never do know how far a child would go, and we must give them the tools and support to get there. Not every child will reach the same goals, but we owe it to them to not impose our own limited view onto them.
As for that Speech Therapist–Oh Boy, was she right about Rachel Kolb! This young woman soars! She chooses how to use the abilities she does have, and she uses them spectacularly. This is one wonderfully unlimited woman! You’d be happy to have made the time to listen.
Listen to this talk. It may reassure you that you are on the right path if you are struggling or helping someone else who is. It may help you truly realize how not all differences in perceived ability mean differences in actual ability. It may improve your understanding of the challenges that hearing impaired persons face, and through them, the realities of other limitations. It may help your children understand the difference between accommodating and ‘indulging’, and how someone’s need for help does not mean they cannot think for themselves or should be seen as lesser than.
It is an amazing talk. Instructive, intelligent, impressive.
It WILL inspire you.
For those wondering: eighteen years of Speech Therapy is a long time. It is also not that unusual for people with severe and profound hearing loss to require that amount of time in therapy. This is not because they are slow to learn, but the act of communication is multifaceted and complex and what we take for granted is difficult to do with much reduced and distorted sound. Hearing impaired persons need help not just learn to speak and improve the clarity of their speaking, but also to speech-read (understand what a person is saying from the movement of their lips and face), to discriminate close-sounding words, to learn to rely on context, to identify new words and learn the difference between how they are written and how they are said (and heard/speech-read). They need to keep up with the realities of underlying information in language (e.g. expressions, ambiguous language, discrimination between words that sound the same to them). They work hard in Speech Therapy and they can do exceedingly well, if given the chance.
Rachel Kolb is deaf. But she is not limited. She’s been given the chance and she’s grabbed hold with two hands and then some. There were those she met in who were limited, however. Not deaf, but limited in their vision and understanding. Like the riding instructor who told her that she would never learn to ride. Or others who judge her for her voice without listening to what she has to say. It is them who have a sort of deafness, I suppose. It is them who were limiting, and in that they were limited.
Lets us not be limited. Let children grow limitless in their ability to work hard, master skills, and achieve the best they can do, not the best we think they should be able to.
“Can people be like light?” The question comes from a bright-eyed five-year-old (who in my view lights the room wherever she goes …).
“What do you think?” (my almost standard response to children’s questions–lets me know what they already have in mind …)
“I don’t know,” frown, scowl, “that’s why I’m asking YOU!”
(Oops, strategy backfired. Okay, I guess I deserved that)
“Why are you asking?” I am treading carefully here, asking again in a different way, but I am really interested in knowing what the question is about.
“My Nana told me I’m her light,” the girl’s young forehead creases in concentration. “She said, ‘you the light of my life!'”
“Aw … it’s a great expression! And a very sweet thing for her to say. I can totally see why.” Children of her age group often begin to notice that there are some things people say that do not quite make sense: the words don’t add up, and they realize that there has to be another meaning, something else that’s being conveyed by the words but is not the words themselves (e.g. “she has a sharp tongue” or “he has no heart” or “raining cats and dogs” …). Sometimes they can infer the meaning, sometimes they are lost or have some sense they are not sure about. I love it when they ask. “What do you think she meant?”
Girl shoots me a “there she goes again with her Speech Pathologist questions again” look, but she relents. She’s patient with me. “That she loves me?”
“Yep … and what else do you think it can mean that you are the light of her life?” I wait.
Eyebrows up, lips scrunched in thought, “… and … that she’s really happy to have me or happy to see me maybe?”
“Yes! Both. Very much so. Also that you are important to her, and that you bring her joy, and that you make her feel better by simply being you. All of that.”
The child smiles. Beams, more like.
We go on with the session. Suddenly she stops again and asks (it is very often that things percolate a while before another level of query bubbles up to the surface): “Can someone be a light for other people?”
“Do you mean for more than one person?” I want to make sure I understand.
“Absolutely. I think you can be a light in many people’s lives.”
Pause, thought, creased forehead. Smile. “Oh, like, if you turn the light on then it is light for everyone?”
My turn to nod. My turn to smile. Super smart cookie, that one.
“Cool!” Eyes wide. Now that she’s got it, she runs with it. “I wish … I wish I could be a light for every every EVERY ONE in the whole wide world! A big light that goes all over around! You think I can?”
She may not know it, but I think she already is one …
How many times have you heard this spoken loudly (word interchangeable, same intention) from a fed-up parent, caregiver or teacher to a child? How many times have you yourself said this or something similar in anger, to a child?
Frustration happens when dealing with little ones with strong opinionated minds and limited awareness for time, urgency, consequences or your priorities; it is inevitable. Children can be persistent, stubborn, wild, loud, aggravating, aggressive, irritating, exhausting. Caregivers get fed up, tired, annoyed, irritated, overwrought. They can have bad days with too much to do, too little sleep, too many children to care for, too many demands with too few hands to do them with, too many worries. Crises, emergencies, a clogged sink, a car that would not start, yet another ‘accident’ right after cleaning is finally done … Children, especially young ones, rarely know to take adult burdens and juggling into account. On the contrary, it is as though they are uncannily aware of any lag or energy slump … and if anything, are more likely to be needy, clingy, whiny, and doubly argumentative exactly when you have the least time or energy to spread around … (FYI, it is mostly not done to drive you nuts, but because children may need to reassure themselves even more when you are stressed, that you are there for them: a difficult cycle, when you have to be extra-patient when there is least patience to be found …).
Parents and caregivers are human. They make errors. They get upset. They may raise their voice, match their child one to one in volume, heel-digging, and demand. It happens, and as long as it does not happen too often, it can be repaired with comfort and apology, time to reconnect, some soothing, an opportunity to explain and understand.
In general, however, children listen better when the volume is set lower. Calm allows the brain to form connections that make meaning, while anxiety and overwhelm awaken circuits of survival while shutting higher learning down. Experienced teachers will tell you that they keep their voice low to keep the children listening: it may seem paradoxical, but in effect it works like a charm. Gentle speaking allows the intonation and cadence of your thoughts to pass through better. It allows the listener to let it in without alarm. It differentiates emotions and helps regulate a child’s understanding of nuance and intention.
A raised voice is a good tool for calling an alarm, to keep the child away from danger, to make clear what should not be done to prevent harm. For instruction, though, the raised voice spins way off the target, and misses by a long shot: the meaning of the words you wanted to convey gets lost in the tone and loudness of the sound.
We cannot force flowers to grow faster by pulling on the stalks, nor would it help if we stalked constantly, demanding them to hasten. We cannot make a plant drink more by spewing a stronger stream of water–it will only exposes roots and hit raw nerves. With children, too, we cannot force growth by raising our voice or hardening our words. We’d get a reaction, maybe, but not learning, and we’d shut down tendrils of potential besides.
“Raise your words, not your voice” Rumi said. Yes. Whenever possible, use good words, taken from and guided by the better part of yourself or the best part of yourself that you can find at that moment. Explain more, demand less: “it is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
Children, too, grow best in gentle sprinkles, rather than thunderstorms.
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