Days of Awe. Mostly Without Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers. 

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops–at all

Until it is hunted, killed, braised, barbecued and eaten.

–Emily Dickinson

Ok.  Emily can only take credit for only part of this….

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Three years ago this week, I was given the honor of speaking in front of my congregation during the High Holidays on the topic of hope. When the rabbi approached me 4 months earlier and told me the topic, I was sure I could pull SOMETHING together. I was flattered and thankful for the opportunity.

And then I fully realized my task.

Asking for five minutes of my time to convey what hope was like for me…in what I assumed had to do with parenting a child with a disability, suddenly morphed into the equivalent of digging for research for a dissertation. I was not sure what hope meant at all, though in fairness, I am not sure I ever fully understood what hope was.

I stumbled on the video link a year afterward and found the old me. Hearing this stranger speaking from the heart was jarring, yet familiar.

This is the (abridged) transcript from that speech.

I’m here to share my story of hope.  My family and I have been congregants here for the last 10 years.  I have two versions of the story I was going to tell today and I’d like to thank the rabbi for allowing me the opportunity to go rogue and tell a third one instead. 

So, I came here this morning with these two versions of my story of hope, not knowing which one I was going to tell.   And mostly because of Rabbi’s sermon last night on vulnerability, I decided to take the two stories and meld them somewhere in the middle to share my story in hopes that if there are people sitting here who feel the same way, they can recognize they are not alone. 

You see…sometimes its not about being hopeful or hopeless. Sometimes there is this vague middle ground, if that exists, in hope. 

I have a child with Autism and he is a sweet, beautiful boy.   And he lives with Autism.  An Autism that impairs him from a life of independence. 

I’m part of a family who is also living with Autism.  An Autism that impair us from a life of independence. 

Showing vulnerability is not particularly an issue for us because we have to wear our vulnerability very publicly.  I’m also pretty visible in the community, and because of that I sometimes feel like I am the “Autism Representative”. 

So, Side A is extra-super truthy.  It shows a side of hope that’s hidden away. That only parents with children with significant disabilities can understand. We hide away. But by sharing this truth of hope, I learned that being vulnerable or weak sometimes has a detrimental effect on my child…both from an emotional standpoint and also from the standpoint of receiving services or receiving help.  It also sometimes leaves me with a compound disappointment chipping away at my worldview of hope in a world where no one can tell me the outcome of my beautiful boy’s life. 

Side B is the very pretty version and it’s the version you might expect to hear.  Its even capped off with a prayer.  But its inauthentic and frankly on Yom Kippur I couldn’t see standing up here knowing there are possibly families I will be doing a disservice by presenting you with the shiniest, most inauthentic version that I could possibly provide of hope.  So thank you, Rabbi for giving me the opportunity to come and share my story.  To spend months studying and contemplating hope in a way that I didn’t anticipate.  Hope is not optimism.  It is not about expectation.  I have realistic expectation for my child.

It is definitely not the thing with feathers. 

I came across a quote by the playwright Tony Kushner and he refers to hope as a moral obligation.  Through all of this, that made the most sense to me. 

Hope just is. 

It’s part of our human condition.  That quote captures the vulnerability of hope as well. 

Just a few days ago I heard an anecdote that captures the best possible way I can describe what its like to sometimes sit in the shame of feeling hopeless for a perfect child living in a very imperfect world with a very scary and nebulous future.  *It’s the story a man told about his grandfather’s wife dying.  After 65 years, she was his lifelong partner and his driver and he wasn’t sure what state he was going to find his grandfather in the first time he saw him after she died.

So he walks in and says, “Hi Grandpa—how are you?  How are you doing?”  And his grandfather says “Did you know that for $4 I can take a shuttle to anywhere in the city?”

 The grandson says, “That’s great grandpa.”

And the grandfather says, “So, went to the grocery store the other day with a list and I went to the lady at the counter and I said ‘Can you please help me with this list?  You see, my wife just relocated and her new address is heaven.’” 

The grandson sits back and laughs and says, “Grandpa, you always help me see the glass as half full.”

The grandfather sits back, looks at the grandson and says, “No….its a beautiful glass.”  

So, my moral obligation today was not to make you think that those of us who have children not following the path of expectation are hopeless.  And it was also not to come up here and make you believe we are full of hope.  Because it lies somewhere in the middle.  If you are a person who sometimes struggles with hope…please know you are not alone.  Thank you.

On this Kol Nidre, if you observe, may you reflect on what hope means to you in a finite and fragile world also full of love and optimism and come out the other side recognizing the glass.

*an excerpt from the film HUMAN by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (2015)

Edited and rewritten from 9/2016

 

 

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