Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Very First Step is to Learn to Accept

Acceptance emanates from an inner strength that we all have. It is not always a revealed strength until it is tapped. The courage to draw upon this energy is to overcome the fear of the unknown. This hidden strength then is the beginning of the march toward acceptance.

In order to allow this new found strength to surface we must each allow for a change in our thinking and our actions. This is the most difficult step of all in the process of these new beginnings. After all we have spent a lifetime building up these time saving habits that have served us well up until now.

It is always easier to reject something that we do not understand than to find out really what it is and learn to accept the gift that was given to you.

This kind of a change will only occur if there is hope and acceptance included in the formula. Hope and healing are also bound up in a much less rigid and a much more flexible reality.

We are a nation who has suffered at the hands of the other nations because of their realities of the world. The parent of a child born with a disability has now achieved this unenviable position of being able to see the world as a not yet completed reality.

This journey begins with the birth of a baby. Not just any baby but a baby whose very life by definition is a life altering birth. The family is suddenly thrust into a center stage situation. Most families will avoid this spot light even when life is going well. This is not necessarily always a fact yet it certainly feels that way when confronted with the potential for a negative peer pressure.

With each successive call placed to you to find out how everyone is the paranoia surfaces. Does this person know yet? Should I tell them now or should I wait. Let’s test the waters and see how they will take it?

The response to a simple “mazel tov” can suddenly become an extremely anxious and complex greeting.

Normally these greetings are casual and almost rote after a child is born. Normally there are no issues to address after a birth. However, with the presence of an infant born with Down syndrome everything is immediately confusing and challenging. There is a sense of your privacy being invaded.

In order for life to return to normal you feel the need to withdraw back to what was normal. It is necessary to understand that a baby who is born with a disability will, in time, quietly grow up out of the lime light. Few people really care. And fewer still really understand. There is an expression that Israeli’s like to use that comes from the Torah and that is, “every beginning is difficult.” In other words after a while it will become routine yet in the beginning it is very hard.

Soon this child, around whom so much of your life is now revolving, will develop into a fully integral thread in a diverse fabric known as family and community.

Children who are born with disabilities grow up with hopes and dreams just as their peers do. And soon they will become adults just as we are. They will have neighbors and be neighbors, they will have friends and be friends, and they will be coworkers just the same as we are.

Even if a biological family finds a good adoptive family who will accept and care for their baby this is none the less a rejection of the infant. This is a self serving rejection as well. After all the infant and G-d did not make this choice. And lest there be any error in the thought process G-d does not make mistakes about these things.

We are taught from an early age to negate our desires and to lower our level of self importance. To embrace the humility that is life.

As we become adults we confuse our daily striving in the work place with our real purpose which is the performance of good deeds. We tend to mitigate our chesed and other spiritual pursuits.

When we are challenged with a child born with something we do not see as part of our normal existence we allow the negative feelings of rejection to surface rather than to allow accepting and vulnerability.

It is a simple formula. When confronted with a negative stressor find a suitable substitute or eliminate the stressor all together.

Keep in mind however that this is not a stressor. This is a “chailek Elokai meMaal Mamash.” This is a piece of Hashem in actuality. (See below)

When Menachem Mendel of Vizhnitz (1830 - 1884) found out that his favorite child, a daughter who had recently married and resettled in the Holy Land with her new husband, had taken ill he asked to see the mail daily. Thus he was able to stay abreast of her condition albeit two weeks later.

His anxiety was tremendous yet he patiently awaited the news via the post on a daily basis.

This reporting continued on a regular schedule until about a month into the letters arriving reporting the progress of the illness during a particular period of a health setback the post did not arrive one erev Shabbos.

The rebbe asked his chassidim to return to the train station just prior to Shabbos to see if perhaps they had overlooked the missing epistle.

Again they returned only to report that the letter had for sure not arrived.

With the beginning of Shabbos the chassidim began by comforting the rebbe that he will probably receive two letters on Motzei Shabbos.

This still did not seem to comfort the rebbe.

As the Shabbos came to a close on Saturday evening the chassidim noticed that not only had the rebbe not been himself for the entire Shabbos but they also noticed that the rebbe was actually crying.

The chassidim became very subdued and many of them remained so even as the Shabbos ended and even as the two letters arrived informing the rebbe of his daughters sudden improvement.

The rebbe sat down at the “tish” (table) on Motzei Shabbos for the Melave Malka (the time immediately following the Sabbath set aside for gathering together and to try and extend the depth of the spirit of Shabbos into the work week.

It was at that moment that the rebbe told the chassidim that they are making a mistake.

He informed them that they erred if they think that he is asking them to do something he himself cannot do. For example to not allow personal pain to disrupt Shabbos or to accept whatever happens as coming from Heaven by not crying or allowing yourself to be distracted.

He told them that if they believe that he was distraught over his daughter and for not having received the post prior to Shabbos then again they were mistaken.

He asked them if they remembered a woman who lived on the edge of the town? They all nodded.

He asked them if they remember that during her illness that the rebbe himself went to her house and cut the wood she needed and made the soup she required and that he personally cleaned up the house and cared for the ill woman’s daughter during the entire illness? Again they concurred.

He continued, do you remember that after a very short period that the daughter recovered? They all responded in unison.

The rebbe now went on to explain that on Shabbos he came to a realization that he was on a lower level of spiritual development than he realized he was on up until then.

He went on to explain that everyday he receives letters asking for prayers and blessings for people, their children and their families.

It took this period of illness to happen to his own daughter to make him realize that “to love another as oneself must be fulfilled literally.”

Since my daughters’ illness was of greater concern to me as compared to what I felt for that woman’s pain whose daughter was ill even though I helped her I understood that I was lacking. As further proof of this the rebbe went on to explain that, “I also felt more for my daughter than I did for those for whom I am asked to pray for. I now understood that I was lacking and that I had to correct this. And that made me cry.”

It is this level of love that we must have for our fellow. The Rebbes’ intense grief made him realize that he had not yet attained this level.

To love and care for someone else’s pain on the same level as you would care for your own child is a level few of us could even hope to be aware of let alone attain or to literally actualize.

(Based upon a kabbalistic concept, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi’s [1745-1812] doctrine of the “two souls.” The Devine soul and the Animal soul. The animal soul is the vital principal that stimulates the physical body, the life of the body. The Devine soul of a Jew is a part of G-d above indeed. {Tanya beginning of Chapter 2}. It is completely independent of the body in the sense that it exists before its coming into the body and it survives the body after the body’s death. The Divine origin of this soul while residing in the body and the animal soul to rise above them and act in defiance of the natural dispositions of the individual. {Nissan Mindel, The Philosophy of Chabad, volume 2, Brooklyn, NY, 1985)

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