It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
-Wendell Berry, “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms”
This quote showed up in my Timehop this last week. I had apparently read it about three years ago, which means that I would have read it during our first of two winters in Tucson. We had left Kentucky after my job there finished, and for a family that had just welcomed a new arrival, it was an opportunity to start anew in an interesting and unfamiliar place. We treated it as a chance to seek order and stability in a vulnerable desert city; it turned out to be very beneficial to hit the reset button.
Now that we have transitioned to a place that is more culturally and geographically familiar, things are even more interesting, albeit in a different manner. Some things that were previously unstable are stable, and in light of Mari’s diagnosis, I realize that such stability is a major help in dealing with our new life situation. Some days, you feel like you are going forward, if only a little while; other times, you feel like you’re just circling, like a jet trying to bide time over a thunderstorm. Eventually, one of three things will happen: the jet will land, divert, or turn back.
Over the last six or seven years, I’ve found a lot of interesting books and articles about parenting from different cultures. Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé introduced a lot of people to French-style parenting, where kids eat more than chicken nuggets, and parents always seem to get a lot of time to themselves. In 2014, the book The Danish Way of Parenting came out, focusing on how parenting is done in what is considered to be the “world’s happiest country.” More recently, Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ Parenting Toward the Kingdom– which I highly recommend- has focused on response over reaction, and also gets parents to think about empathy and consistency. That’s in very sharp contrast to the power-centered, reactionary parenting that has been a major staple of American parenting, as well as many other cultures.
As interesting and fascinating as these reads have been, none of them have prepared any of us for what came into our lives this year. Part of that is because every day is different; one day’s trigger is another day’s safe space. Sleep deprivation, combined with the effects of medication designed to keep our oldest from falling asleep in class or collapsing due to cold, is a big factor in this inconsistency. Until we learned about it, our reaction was similar to the surface reaction towards her behavior: she was acting like a spoiled, badly behaving 6-year old. It took more time with her, as well as further tests and doctor visits, to realize that this was a full-blown health issue.
Amidst all of the unpredictability and instability, I have learned that no book, no blog, and no Facebook community would truly provide a full sense of reassurance. That reassurance has come from two places. One of those places comes from the prayers I attempt to say each day. The other place is the physical community that we have, whether from our families, church, schools, or dance teachers. As parents, we have been petrified of the possibility that our daughter’s elders will be worn down by her struggles. But in being authentic and honest about our fears with the people around us, we have been reassured that they are alongside us for the journey. Mari’s teachers are constantly working to find the best solutions for her to thrive in school. Her physicians are working to get her the medical help she needs. Our friends and coworkers are praying for us, and have been amazing about providing small things, such as the occasional dinner or respite time, that allow us to have a bit more than we have. (They’re also helping our youngest thrive, as she is so small, and therefore vulnerable to being left out.)
What this sense of community often brings is a feeling that we are not struggling alone. Everyone in Mari’s life, whether an aunt or a dance teacher, has struggled with seeing this happen to someone they love. For me, it is the closest thing I have experienced to a true sense of community. We are all sharing the processes of coping, learning, and responding to what is going on.
In many ways, it feels like starting over as a parent, friend, and community member. What worked before, is not working, and the review of the Wendell Berry quote served as a reminder that it’s not only okay to start over, but it’s also okay to admit not knowing what to do in the reset process.
St. Anthony the Great has a fantastic saying about this process, as it’s part of ascetic struggle. He said, “Every day I say to myself: ‘Today I will begin.’ “
So that leads to my questions to myself for the week.
How do I start over in community?
How does prayer help me to embrace the reset process?
What else will guide that process, and better connect me to the people that are struggling alongside me?