Thursday, March 6, 2008

"It is not the absence of sight that is the problem; rather it is the lack of vision." Helen Keller

Giving a child with Down syndrome, disability, or imperfection away may allow for an easier life for the parents, but what about the other family members who are never consulted?

A family is a shared experience. It is an inheritance and a legacy. That legacy is cumulatively greater than one moment of convenience based upon a one individuals choice. A family, especially an orthodox family, always involves, the parents, the progeny, and the Aibishter in their lives.

A Jewish film producer once said, “Mother, father, and G-d represented the core of Jewish family life. Every home depended on the warmth and care given by the mother, the strength and security given by the father, and the omnipresence and omnipotence of G-d. Mother was there when you were ailing or hungry or cold, father was always handy to protect you and G-d was available for everything.” (Dore Schary)

“Just as it is a mitzvah to put on Tefillin every day, it is a mitzva for a father to be involved with his children every day.” (M.M. Schneerson)

We all need family whether as a child or a parent. For those of us fortunate enough to have a large family to rely upon and to share our joys and burdens by being a member of that family are truly blessed. The fullness we all feel by having an extended family as well as a large natural immediate family gives us an identity, a sense of self, of closeness, support, and variety.

It is precisely this access to the dynamics of a large family that is denied the baby who is given away in the very earliest stages of life. How much more so does a retarded child need to feel this acceptance and the security that goes comes with it, rather than literally being lost, alone, and rejected from the very first stages of life.

Keeping a child born with Down syndrome can only enrich each and every family member’s experience. This is accomplished by eliminating the myths, the fears, and the unknown, and then by further embracing, understanding, and meeting those challenges head on. This is how we all benefit.

There are clearly times when family members simply cannot cope with certain situations. There are times when a parent may actually think and wonder, G-d forbid, why this child was born. Generally speaking orthodox Jews don’t entertain such disparaging thoughts. Not until, that is, they are challenged to the very essence of their collective being.

As the Gemora, (Magilla, 16A) reminds us, “These people (the Jews) have been compared to sand and stars; when they fall as low as the sand, and when they rise as high as the sky.” Between the stars and the sand, orthodox Jews also have had bad thoughts. Specifically, this is in reference to the attitudes harbored toward children born “differently abled” or more commonly, handicapped.

All of the evidence proves that the absolute worst thing that can happen to a baby immediately after birth is to be separated from his natural maternal and paternal parents. The second worst negative factor in a child’s early development is to be placed in a facility, communal home, or institution. The most desirable setting then is always with the biological family at home in the presence of their natural siblings.

What is more joyous than having a baby? And what is more fraught with potential for conflict?

Say what you want about the probability of winning the lottery but I’ve never heard the story of the guy who won the second tier of the lotto and complained about the windfall by asking to pass it on to another without even sampling some of the windfall if only for a short time.

Can’t you hear the reaction now, “Oh my gosh I just won $175,000 but I entered the lottery to win $90 million, oh my gosh, why me? Why did it have to be me? I don’t think I can handle this. It’s going to be too much for the family to handle.”

This is partially because we do not see life granted to us by G-d as equal in value to money.

Childbirth no matter how much we think we can control it, is still more like a lottery, even though the grand prize is a gift from Above.

As Dore Schary says, “childbirth is one of the greatest shared moments in the lives of mothers and fathers and babies, offering an infinite number of possibilities as the potential. There are those segments of the process that are observed, monitored, and regulated and there are those aspects of the process over which we have not control and less insight.” The only way by which religious Jews have found to best cope is with the use of prayer and recitation of Tehillim (Plalms) in order to effect or influence outcome. And we know these tools work.

These are the windows to heaven according to the Baal Shem Tov (1689-1760 The founder of the Chassidic movement). And if I might add here so are our children, windows to heaven. When G-d sends us a child He is also sending us the special instructions as to how to handle the situation. He wants you to have this child; all you need do is pray and listen closely for the answer.

Just as there are no two people the same so too there are no two birthing experiences that are the same. Every baby goes through a birthing process that is similar only, however, in that every baby descends through a series of internal events ultimately presenting to us as an external dependent being. It is here that all of the similarities end and the uniqueness of this living event begins as life.

G-d does not make mistakes when creating human beings. Only human beings, through independent thought, speech, and action, make mistakes through ignorance. Put another way, everything and everyone is perfect in His eyes; It is our eyes that need “ophthalmological spiritual” correction.

No comments: