Like many people dependent upon care from others, M can be a tyrant. For instance, sensing my anxiousness during her feedings, when itâ€™s crucial to get enough into her to sustain her plus stimulate her slow growth curve, sheâ€™s begun extorting favors. Sometimes sheâ€™ll demand to watch her favorite video over and over or else she wonâ€™t eat. She wrings the last drop of pleasure out of these viewings then collapses back into boredom. Then she grows irritable and stops eating again. Do something to entertain me, she pouts, or Iâ€™ll starve myself.
This behavior wasnâ€™t possible during her early years, when, being in perfect need, she had full right to everyoneâ€™s best resources. Not only our best â€“ she had license to pull from us more than we had. She didnâ€™t exert this right because she didnâ€™t understand she had it. The responsibility not just to answer the call but also to perceive it in the first place was ours. Routinely, she took us to the edges of who we were. Finding the nerve to jump was our problem.
Now sheâ€™s learned enough to play tricks of control. Dire need is innocent and entitled; manipulation is accountable and arguable.
By the churchâ€™s standards, M is forever innocent. She neednâ€™t make baptismal covenants to keep Godâ€™s commandments or take on Godâ€™s name in any of the usual rituals of devotion. In fact, for her, baptism is a physical impossibility. Immersion in a baptismal font would terrify her and put her in danger. Her salvation, weâ€™ve been told, is not dependent upon the usual duties of belief or keys of authority. At a meeting where our bishop interviewed us on our expectations regarding baptism for M, he put it this way: A â€œveggieâ€ like M is not accountable. Yep. He said â€œveggie.â€
All the same, Iâ€™ve relied heavily on Mâ€™s spark of human agency to help her get as far as sheâ€™s come. In those early years, I tried putting choices to her in as many ways as I could think of, choices of life against death, awareness against unawareness. Somehow, in spite of my inadequacies, she made something of the relationship that rose between us.
Now, as her primary disciplinarian, Iâ€™m introducing very basic principles of personal responsibility. My dear, A is not working, not for you, not for us. Youâ€™re treating A as if it were your only choice. Iâ€™m going to begin teaching you itâ€™s not. From now on, if you do A, B will happen. If you stop eating in an act of brattiness, you go into the bedroom where you can have your tantrum till you can think of something better than that to do.
In the meantime, as she outgrows old toys, videos, activities, and her Calvin and Hobbes library, weâ€™ll try to find new activities, music, and reading material to relieve the boredom that accompanies the development of her mind . Eventually, she should learn to create her own arrays of choices and develop some skill to choose more wisely than she does now. Why do we do this? To help her magnify her intelligence. We donâ€™t believe that because sheâ€™s not accountable it follows that sheâ€™s incapable of progression. Iâ€™ll let you know how it goes.
In the past, I liked to think that Iâ€™d have learned what Iâ€™ve learned from all this without M having to have suffered so deeply for my foolishness. My husband says he thinks I would have, because he says I go looking for â€¦ whateverâ€™s out there.
But Iâ€™m not so sure. Given all the creature comforts my unknowingness afforded, I canâ€™t say for certain Iâ€™d have budged off its Corinthian leather sofa for anything less than my childâ€™s desperate need. Furthermore, if the devil, in an Especially for Mormons moment, gave me a choice between having greater insight into the condition of mankind or a daughter able to win privileges of physical and mental maturity, I might just opt to keep the ignorance. I say â€œthe devil,â€ because the devil is the father of false dilemmas. God is more generous than that.
One thing I almost certainly wouldnâ€™t have learned had not M suffered an attack from cytomegalovirus: how intimately, inextricably involved we all are. The â€œItâ€™s my body, Iâ€™ll do with it what I please, Iâ€™m not hurting anyoneâ€ spiel doesnâ€™t fly for us anymore. We now subscribe to â€œNo man is an island,â€ set on fire.
Not only are we humans intimately bound one to another, but also weâ€™re deeply entangled with the natural â€“ that is, the non-human â€“ world, including microorganisms, many of which are as focused as raccoons or coyotes are in their clever opportunism. Thus they thrive wherever there is human concourse. We suffered our attack from the â€œnaturalâ€ world via a human vector, further evidence weâ€™re not as far above or separate from nature as we imagine. But beside that, Iâ€™ve been surprised to find I could rely upon other intelligence than human and divine intelligence to address some of the finer aspects of Mâ€™s care. Plants and animals showed me â€“ still show me â€“ aspects of consciousness and relation that help me make the connections with M that we both need.
Still, I wander amazed through the treasure room of my not knowingness. After having been smacked up aside the head with its consequences during that pregnancy over 16 years ago, Iâ€™ve been shoveling the clumsy, gaudy stuff out the door as fast as I can. But I swear it multiplies even as Iâ€™m reducing it: three shovels full out, two more in. Or is it two out, three in? Hard to tell. Could be both!
It is one of those strangely mixed blessings that Mâ€™s suffering jump-started me after a period of indolence. This is not to say I think suffering is the only or best catalyst for progress. Not sure who said this â€“ Joseph Addison or Anne Lindbergh â€“ both get credit for it â€“ but whichever said it, I agree: â€œI do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everybody suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.â€
Of all the holy traits capable of competing against the boundless wealth of ignorance, I think the extravagance of love might be most equal to the task. There is something about love that leads us past those places ignorance does not wish to look at. Ignorance abhors a mystery; love is drawn to it, be it the mystery of a childâ€™s illness or of Godâ€™s passion for us. For all its luxury, unknowingness mounts debt. Love creates surplus. A few fish become enough to feed a crowd with some left over, five talents become ten.
Paulâ€™s letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 3, contains an interesting phrase about the love of Christ: â€œAnd to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God (3:19).â€ Typically, we interpret the phrase â€œthe love of Christâ€ to contain triplets of meaning. â€œThe love of Christâ€ can mean Christâ€™s love for us. â€œThe love of Christâ€ can mean our love for Christ. It can also mean â€œChrist-like loveâ€ that people may bear each other.
But itâ€™s the phrase â€œwhich passeth knowledgeâ€ that snags my attention. The chapter heading rephrases the clause into the familiar, â€œThe love of Christ passeth all understanding.â€ Many people, I think, interpret this to mean something like, â€œThe nature and power of the love of Christ lie beyond our comprehension.â€
However, in this verse, I wonder if â€œpassethâ€ might signify transference rather than exceptionality. That is, the love of Christ passes knowledge to us or transports us beyond our knowledge. This passing of knowledge or transporting us beyond our knowledge happens so we â€œmight be filled with all the fulness of God.â€ Also, in the verses preceeding vs. 19, Paul tells us that the cause he bows his knee to God for is that â€œâ€¦ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height â€¦â€
Any or all of the triplets will work in the phrase under consideration. But playing with just the Kingâ€™s English here, I especially like the idea that the Christ-like love we may bear each other transfers knowledge to us and/or takes us over the ledge of what we know (haha, know-ledge). Or that such love edges us on to or past the knowl (OE spelling of knoll, a small hill that rises above the landscape, or the summit of said small hill).
Christâ€™s love for us and the Christ-like love we strive to show each other, the â€œfellowship of the mystery,â€ takes us over the ledge of what we know to the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. Of what? â€œThe unsearchable riches of Christ,â€ of which Paul preaches. The mystery of â€œprincipalities and powers in heavenly places.â€
Mâ€™s world is a teeming interface with â€œthe mystery.â€ Driven by love (and mourning, and openness, and vulnerability, but if I have these but not love, I have nothing), I went to the ledge of what I know, which was something but not enough. Love — the bottomless desire of a mother for her daughter — compelled me onward. There seemed no other way: I took the plunge. But instead of hitting bottom, I found myself in a heavenly place, up to my neck in the firstlings of those unsearchable riches of Christ. Pawing through these, I rendered enough of my ignorance to clear some of the debt I incurred against Mâ€™s mortal potential during my luxurious life of unknowingness. That I ever believed my ignorance to be so valuable, so worth holding on to â€“ thatâ€™s the mystery, now. That, and what Godâ€™s willing to give me for such worthless junk. Still, Iâ€™m kind of glad that I have so much of it. At the current exchange rate, I can keep going on it forever.
Me to M: â€œHey, Baby! You want to come with me?
M to me: â€œAh!â€ (Mâ€™s word of affirmative.)
Me to M: â€œGreat! Letâ€™s start by going out to the feeders and watching the hummingbirds. They have tiny brains but theyâ€™re really smart!â€
M to me: â€œAh!â€
Me to M: â€œOkay, letâ€™s go. Sing it with me.”
M and Me together:
Superman or Green Lantern ain’t got a-nothin on me.
I can make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea, yeah!
A you-you-you can just sit there thinkin’ on your velvet throne
“Bout all the rainbows you can have for your own.
When you’ve made your mind up forever to be mine
I’ll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind.
When you’ve made your mind up forever to be mine
I’ll pick up your hand,
I’ll pick up your hand.