M Gets a Joke

A while back our household sat down to watch an episode of Monk. We like Monk because not only is it funny, it’s also sad and tender and offers good – sometimes very good – cultural satire. As I fed M she kept turning her head to look at the TV, watching whatever it is she sees when she’s watching something. We’re not sure what that is because doctors have sent mixed messages about her eyesight. But she does see.

One scene ended in Monk launching into his trademark freak-out. During freak-outs, Monk utters exaggerated grunts of fear and revulsion and flails his arms and legs, knocking things down in a cacophony of rattles and bangs, bringing upon himself even greater chaos. The rest of us have watched many episodes of Monk. We anticipate the freak-out and smiled when this one arrived. But M laughed.

She laughed! Not at a family joke, and not because she was excited. She laughed because she thought the scene funny, which it was meant to be. This is the first time she laughed as part of an audience made up of more sophisticated viewers than the Blue’s Clues or Elmo’s World crowd. It’s the first time she laughed at something upon seeing (or hearing) it for the first time rather than something she has watched repeatedly and whose funniness has been enhanced through family performance art. This is the first time M got the joke.

Part of my motherly duty includes coaxing a belly laugh from her at least once a day. Often it erupts when I push her around the house in her wheelchair, prelude to feeding her. Like cats excited by a trailing string, my other two children jump in, attacking their poor mother. Play screams and laughter ring out in concert with noisy bumps and rattles. Because M rides in her wheelchair, she leads these riotous parades, wheezing in spasms of whole-body laughter.

But bringing M to a rolling belly laugh is not the same as telling her a joke that she gets. Sparking a belly laugh is a matter of involving her in group joie de vivre. Her getting a joke is a solo aha reaction.

She began smiling when she was two months old. Back then her smile was a blessing, a sign life could get better. Because I’m interested in effects of language, I found even more intriguing the fact that the act of language she responded vocally to with the greatest consistency was the question. Nearly any question I asked, including questions not addressed to her, elicited a soft hoot of response, where flat declarative statements or exclamations – eh, not much.

Funny thing, she had some wherewithal to respond to questions but she couldn’t lift her head. When she was nine months old, a physical therapist placed M on her belly across a rolled up towel that rested snugly against her chest and under her armpits. He said, “She’ll begin lifting her head within two weeks,” and she did. Being placed on her belly with a tucked-under towel triggered the reflexive behavior of head lifting, an old, inherited response to being in the world, whose live coals still glowed beneath ashes of the brain injury she’d suffered. Building upon such reflexive behaviors, we helped her accomplish other goals of physical development.

But her seemingly automatic response to questions made me wonder: Is there something about the form and tonal quality of the question to which the human brain responds reflexively? Questions often take striking forms, with some coming off musically, having rhythm and melodic tonal phrasing – part of their “hook.” Could it be that questions tripped some innate answer-response in the brains of hearers? If so, then maybe asking M questions could trigger development of her cognitive powers the way therapies like laying her across a rolled up towel triggered development of her physical abilities.

So I began asking her questions. All kinds of questions, all the time. She answered them all the same way, whether the expected answer was yes or no: “Hoot.” Some thought my asking her questions delusional. Yet over the years she began differentiating “no” answers and “yes” answers. No = grunt of irritation, unmistakable in meaning. Yes = soft hoot, excited hoot, soft “yah,” “Ah!” (my favorite) and some words I haven’t worked out the spelling for but tonally are affirmative. Given she has retained variations of the “hoot” answer for “yes,” one wonders what she might have been saying “yes” to all those years. Perhaps to the essential act of being addressed: “Yes, yes, yes, I’m here, I’m here!”

Eventually, we moved to questions requiring one or two word responses.

“What do you want?” “Ow-eye.” “You want to go outside?” “Ah!” “Okay, let’s go outside.” Smiles and giggles of excitement.

“What do you want?” “Wun uhp.” “You want up?” “Yah.” “Okay, let’s go for a little walk.”

No answer = “I don’t understand the question.” Nowadays, she’s able to express many of her needs and wishes through longer and shorter Q&A sessions.

Where human intelligence is concerned, language – specifically, language that opens up prospects for oneself and others – is native ground for the flowering of human agency. But because of this experience and others, I’ve come to think that the question is one of the best kinds of language we have for mental transport and the quickening of cognitive development, right up there with metaphor in importance to the life and liveliness of human expression. Through its powers of engagement, a good question, like a fast pony, moves us from Point A to a superior-in-circumstances point B, or sometimes to a surprising (but even better) Point C. There’s just something about a question we find stimulating, perhaps even irresistible, perhaps even animating on our deepest levels of awareness, where we most essentially are what we are.

Recently a LDS brother asked my husband the following question: “Do you think that you might be holding M back from going home to God?” This query provoked my husband’s wrath, and rightly so, because it wasn’t a question, though it pretended it needed only a simple yes or no answer. It was an argument making several assertions, wearing only the wool and ears of a question. At its heart lay a sleeping threat.

M has an overall appreciation for life, punctuated though it be with periods of hardship, pain, and suffering. She eats when we feed her, cries or calls out when she needs or wants something, recovers when she falls ill, rises to the occasion when we strive to work out her difficulties, laughs when we tickle her. She goes to sleep at night and wakes up, cheerful or not, the next day. So the only way I see that we might be keeping her from “going home to God” is by not starving her and not denying her of safety and shelter and meaningful human relationships. The only way I can imagine that we’re preventing her from going home to God is by not sending her to her Maker – id est, by not killing her.

I don’t believe the brother meant we ought to kill our daughter. But the language he used is the language of abandonment. The rhetoric is the rhetoric of stealing God. Packaging such language in a question – “Do you think you might be” – instead of a statement – “I think you might be” – shifts the burden of proof onto the other conversant the way the opening shot of an ambush shifts the responsibility for being shot at onto its intended target. Such a question belongs to the “Have you stopped beating your wife” class of pseudo-questions. But more importantly, since the question – any question – may pack a special punch where human consciousness is concerned, cramming hidden assumptions and accusations into its already spring-loaded form changes a vehicle of transport into a cattle chute. That is, once it “hooked” him, this particular question tried to drive my husband in a certain direction through narrowed options. So while I don’t believe the brother meant we ought to kill our daughter, I do think he tried to line up my husband in the crosshairs of one set of intentions or another.

The only religious environment I have ever known is the Mormon church, which aligns its purposes with God’s: Bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Simply making such a statement opens up prospects, though the view goes so far it’s like looking into thick bands of the Milky Way and not knowing what to make of it all, there’s so much present, even more possible, and it’s all so stunning and deeply interrogatory. Somehow, we sense that part of this expansion of life includes language, since we place so much significance upon scripture.

The New Testament displays Christ’s quick and quickening responses to “Have you stopped beating your wife” questions: “Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? And the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?” “Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands.” “Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

Christ’s answers, as well as his many questions, demonstrate the need for opening up such language to the air, where it either falls silent and dies or starts breathing and takes life in spasms of inspiration. Yet most of the talk about language that I hear in the LDS culture resigns it to the realm of afflicted things, bits and pieces of Creation that can’t be made right until they “go home to God.” Christ redeemed poor language with teeming language at every turn, multiplying its few fishes and loaves into more than enough to feed the multitude. His language turned the seeming inevitability of blindness into sight and impairments of lameness into free movement.

For M, language and the deep relationships that live through language have enabled life. Had she been surrounded with more and better language, she would have come even farther than she has. She would have gotten the joke earlier. She might even be telling jokes. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Unite. Unite who? Unite someone, you should call him “Sir.” Humor laced with questions, since she has always found questions so fetching.

50 comments for “M Gets a Joke

  1. Language is miraculous. It is the thing that separates us from other animals.

    I am glad that your daughter found your home. I don’t think it was accidental. She is blessed to be there, and you are blessed to have her.

    Perhaps she would also like Mr. Bean.

  2. Wonderful, Patricia. Thanks for this.

    My children are learning the wonder of jokes. It’s so fun to watch them grasp humor, and to see the jokes that they enjoy. If you make a cherry pie out of cherries, and an apples pie out of apples, how do you make a shepherd pie?

    I hadn’t heard the “unite” joke before, but I’ll be using it.

  3. Blain, thanks for commenting.

    About this: “I don’t think it was accidental.”

    I think it may very well have been accidental in the way getting t-boned at an intersection is accidental. That is, we didn’t start our family expecting one of our children to suffer a brain injury before she was born (I know you’re not implying that we did) but people (including me) made decisions and circumstances unfolded that put us on a collision course with catastrophe. I think it speaks extremely well of the gospel that it helps us avoid some catastrophes, but when they happen, it provides the insight and helps us make the connections we need to work matters out as best we can.

  4. Kaimi, IMO joking with your kids is as important as reading to them and just as fun. But how do you get them to eat shepherd pie after they do the math for that joke?

    I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat shepherd’s pie again. :)

  5. Patricia, thanks very much. I like your attention to your own language almost as much as I like what you say with it.

  6. 3 — I clearly can’t offer insight into the causality there, since I know nothing about the background and get nervous (sometimes) talking about things I don’t know anything about. What I can see is a kid with special needs and a parent who has special abilities to deal with that. I also know that it’s not nearly as tidy and easy as that can sound — I have a passel of autistic great-nephews, and work with children with severe behavior problems.

    What’s clear to me is that you love your daughter very much, and you don’t see her as a burden, or a punishment, or a pain, and you approach her process with an openness to her capabilities and how she will manifest them that has a definite tone of wonderment about it. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with that — I can’t even find the right adjective that should go where “impressed” is in that sentence. This is a good situation (your situation, not that I’m failing to find words). It helps me feel better. Bless you.

  7. It has been an interesting experience having a child with a major medical issue. Although my child’s situation is very different from M’s, some of the themes are similar. Medical papers from just a few years ago back report that of the parents who receive same prenatal diagnosis as my child’s, half decide to terminate the pregnancy. Of the babies that are born, half of the parents decide not to treat but to provide “compassionate care” (let the baby die). That leaves 25 percent diagnosed prenatally who treat. At an excellent medical center, 9 out of 10 of the babies with this diagnosis survive their first surgery.

    As a parent, I am left with a very complicated sort of survivor’s guilt on behalf of my child. Luckily we live in a very supportive, quite religious community and people have avoided making the sort of comments that you report a brother from church making, but which people could very well make if they stopped to think about my child’s situation.

    Well, enough of that. We love our child dearly and he is living a very full life and the most frequent comment we get on his condition is, “You’d never know there was anything wrong with him.” (And I won’t discuss my reaction to that statement. Just avoid making it if you’re ever around me, please. Thanks!)

    Thanks for sharing your deep thoughts, Patricia. It was a beautiful post, as always.

  8. “Christ redeemed poor language with teeming language at every turn, multiplying its few fishes and loaves into more than enough to feed the multitude.”

    Yes. One of my favorite jokes from the New Testament is found in John 8. I don’t know if most people read this as a joke or not. But I think it’s very funny. The law is not stone; it’s writing in the dust.

  9. Blain, I’m curious. You said this post made you feel better. Feel better about what, if you don’t mind saying?

    “you don’t see her as a burden, or a punishment, or a pain …”

    I don’t, but I am quite sensitive to burdens placed on her, burdens like the remark the brother made. She is not capable of understanding such a remark nor of answering it. Or the way she would answer it — is anwering it — he wouldn’t be able to perceive. Part of what I mean to do in this post is answer it for her.

    Here’s another question (not directed at Blain, I’m just tossing it out here): By what virtue do we shift moral stance toward others based on our appraisal of those others’ moral, intellectual, or physical ability as we perceive it? Most people would not suggest that a healthy, productive, moderate to fully functional 16-yr.-old girl ought to “go home to God” and would consider it immoral, unethical, perhaps even unimaginable to suggest such a thing. But many people appear willing to at least entertain the idea that my severely disabled daughter ought to “go home to God.” What changes? Why might I be considered immoral, or at least dangerously dysfunctional, maybe even pathological, if I harbored such thoughts toward a typical teenaged girl but moral and functional if I harbor such thoughts toward an impaired one?

    Such language seems to me to place the burden for one’s own moral judgment and actions upon what one perceives to be the lowlier life: If you want me to consider you fit to live, you must prove yourself to me to be fit to live. Oh, and you have to meet the criteria of my unstated (but obviously unarguable) assumptions to do that. Otherwise, you should catch the midnight train to Eternity. I’m so magnanimous, I’ll even pay your fare.

    This is stereotyping and runs the same risks all stereotyping does: not only do I reduce another to an oversimplified, unconsidered convention when I stereotype him/her/it and take my oversimplified, unconsidered moral stance toward that other based upon my poor perception, but also in placing myself in relation to another based upon a stereotype, I stereotype myself.

  10. I don’t have any answers, but I do think that Mormons need to explore our relationships with mortality and eternity much more deeply and consciously.

    I have days where I feel like I’m a stranger here (should have more where I also feel like I’m a pilgrim) — where the alienation seems utterly complete and the yearning for something else (what? a reprieve?) overwhelming. There are other days where I want to claw and grasp at whatever shreds of mortal experience I can get and fight, fight, fight to keep eternity at bay to treasure even the hurtful and annoying things of this sphere and plead with the Father for more time for me and all those I love.

    I think that’s what attracted to me to the idea of my not-progressing-work-in-progress Elder Cannon Remarries:

    “I know that Rachel is waiting for me on the other side, but I miss her in this existence. I wanted more time with her in mortality. I have no doubts about the glory of the resurrection, but it was her imperfect body and unrefined spirit that I fell in love with. That is the Rachel I know, and the promise of the coming day, while comforting, is also foreign, just like she, though she will be the same, will be foreign, with a foreign body.”

  11. Researcher, you provide an excellent example of the kind of sentimentalized, increasingly popular “killing language” dangerous not only to people like M and to your child but also to the people who use it, because it stupefies the soul. Such language closes off its user’s options just as it narrows the prospects of the person it is directed against. “Compassionate care” — very sweet, morally superior, because we say it is. No need to delve deeper into such a phrase’s moral underpinnings or consider where we might say better.

    I make these remarks guessing that there truly are instances where options are exhausted or the situation currently intractable and it’s time to let a person “go home to God.” But even if cases exist where such language may reasonably abide, I can’t see how it follows that we draw down the language surrounding those situations and apply it without argument to other ones. At this point in my life, I can’t imagine what I’d do in such emotionally charged and complicated circumstances as attending the premature death, for instance, of a loved one suffering from a terminal illness. But I can easily imagine myself appraising my responsibility for any outcome, trying to imagine where my thinking might change or how I might become more fully engaged.

    Like I’ll do with this thread when it’s over.

  12. #10, Wm: “I have days where I feel like I’m a stranger here (should have more where I also feel like I’m a pilgrim) — where the alienation seems utterly complete and the yearning for something else (what? a reprieve?) overwhelming. There are other days where I want to claw and grasp at whatever shreds of mortal experience I can get and fight, fight, fight to keep eternity at bay to treasure even the hurtful and annoying things of this sphere and plead with the Father for more time for me and all those I love.”

    Not to embarrass you, but your expression of this universal fire for life, both in the here and now and in the hereafter, makes me a little weak in the knees!

    I don’t feel the same degree of alienation, but I recognize that I haven’t found a suitable piece of ground to build the foundation for a “house,” an enclosed space to stay put. I wonder if this is a condition of the human soul, it’s nature being to progress, evolve, however you want to put it. If so, then maybe we live in a house w/out walls and ceiling on ground that shifts and rises and that won’t support a timeless structure. Maybe we can’t really “settle.”

    All the more reason to fight, maybe not against mortal experience but the kinds of language we find entrapping. The best way to do that, I guess, is to create in better language than that which seems to be trying to corner us, both from exterior sources and interior ones.

    However it works, I think our houses are mostly made of language, of the narrative we wrap ourselves in (or smother ourselves with). Language and relation, entwining strands in the double helix of experience. I was about to say that I thought the world needs re-storied and express my wish that I had enough influence to call for flooding the world with stories that take their stand against poorer narrative takes on the world. You kinda beat me to it, Wm.

  13. “I don’t feel the same degree of alienation”

    Well, as cliched as it is, I am a Gen-X slacker kid from the suburbs with a fondness for punk/post-punk, Kafka and science fiction.


    I don’t know that I actually beat you to it. It pretty much follows from your initial post. :-)

  14. My mom’s been involved in geriatric care and cared for all 4 of my grandparents before their deaths, so we’ve had lots of end-of-life discussions. She’s made her desires and preferences very clear because she doesn’t want any of us to feel burdened or conflicted about caring for her. Most people, in or out of the church, haven’t had those kinds of discussions or thought through the moral/legal implications.

    One thing we have to watch ourselves for in the church is balancing that desire to return home to our Heavenly Father with the necessity of making our earthly lives truly count. The plan intended, however, that we fully experience life, as much as we could, otherwise suicide would be no sin. We’d just let the longing for Heaven, or the pain of Earth overwhelm us and decide to let go.

    And people say stupid, stupid things.

  15. Researcher (7), my gut reaction to that line would be “You’d never know there was anything wrong with you either” (biting my tongue as I do my best to not vocalize the next part: “…had you not opened your mouth.”)

    I had to share. :)

    Thank you Patricia (and Researcher) for sharing your stories. I am a better person for them.


  16. #13: “Well, as cliched as it is, I am a Gen-X slacker kid from the suburbs with a fondness for punk/post-punk, Kafka and science fiction.”

    Ah. Well then, as a tail-end baby boomer who grew up in agricultural-era America during the cold war when the world was going to end any minute but the country still plugged along and produced more than it needed and when school kids had to memorize passages of Shakespeare and Mark Twain, I say, GET OUT THERE AND GET A REAL JOB!

  17. #14, Marianne: “And people say stupid, stupid things.”

    Maybe I’m off, but I’m thinking people say poorly thought-out things because they don’t know what else to think/say. I’m just wishing that we could tell better stories to provide people the raw materials they need to make something better of their own experiences, stories that provoke people into wider options, stronger thoughts, and more lively language to carry it all.

  18. I have to leave town for several hours, so if you comment and I don’t respond in a timely manner, that’s why.


  19. Such language seems to me to place the burden for one’s own moral judgment and actions upon what one perceives to be the lowlier life: If you want me to consider you fit to live, you must prove yourself to me to be fit to live.

    Much though I loved the post, this sentence caught me more deeply.

  20. Patricia, I’d agree that most of those stupid things aren’t necessarily intended with malice, but I think it is a sign of a failure of true empathy. We don’t want to imagine ourselves in a difficult situation, and often we don’t actually want to mourn with those who mourn. Rubbernecking tendencies aside, it can throw well-meaning people into a panic to see pain or trauma or discomfort and the instinct is to make it better so that we can go on. I appreciate that Christ didn’t tell Mary and Martha that Lazarus had gone to a better place and that it would be ok since he could be a missionary in heaven and at least he wasn’t suffering any more. He didn’t even say it would be ok in a few minutes. Instead he mourned with them.

    My brother’s a bishop and called me this week in tears an hour before he had to go conduct a funeral for a baby because he had no idea what to say. I told him that that actually sounded like a good thing to say. That and Heavenly Father loved them.

  21. 9 — It makes me feel better that there is a child who has the special needs your daughter does who has you for a parent seeing her in this way. The children I work with do not have the same needs she does, and are less nominally delayed than she is, but they have been removed from their parents care (usually because the parents can’t provide for their needs), and I see the pain they feel from being rejected or abandoned by their parents (and past foster parents, in most cases). Knowing of you makes me feel better and is healing in the same way going to Church and seeing similarly adorable little faces to those that I work with, only these don’t swear like truckers and threaten to kill me.

    For the beginning of an answer to your next question, I think it’s both the unwillingness most people have in seeing children who will need support and help their entire lives (they really don’t like seeing them as adults either, but that’s another matter) and the rationalization that it would be easier (for the speakers) for these children to die than to have to see them and feel the pain that results from really understanding what their lives and the lives of those around them will be. Because it’s hard. Very, very hard. Like knowing that my niece is almost certainly going to have to give up her twins because they’re too low functioning and they’re getting bigger, stronger and harder to control physically. Or the kids from work that are also getting bigger, stronger, and harder to control, and they are smart enough to evade the tools we can use to encourage them to learn independent living skills, and will be unprepared for life outside institutions when they turn 18 and find themselves with the supportive cocoon they’ve always known gone.

    I have to go now. I’d like to continue in this conversation more, because (surprise) it has meaning to me.

  22. I very much enjoyed your post.

    I have been thinking about this lately, actually. About how Hitler thought it would be a good idea to get rid of those who are disabled.
    There is an article in this month’s Ensign by Elder Nelson that is just excellent. It is about how terrible abortion is. He discusses some of these same issues. If some people say that it is okay to kill a disabled (unborn) baby, then the logical next step is that a disabled person’s life is not worth living. This is so, so sad.

    I just “happened” across this website, so I don’t know your personal situation, but I am glad that M got to live in your familyl! You sound like wonderful parents!

  23. #20, Marianne: It is easy — well, easy isn’t the word — maybe the word “natural” would be better — for me to point out the failures in the brother’s words because I have myself thought similarly. In order to survive this whole experience of caring for another who needs so much, I’ve had to pull apart my own thinking and language and see what was there that didn’t work. I found strands of that same kind of laying further burden upon others and had to face the truth that, before M was born and I was beaten up and thrown into the ditch by circumstances that robbed me of the life I expected, I would have been one of the people who passed by that poor victim of thieves that the Samaritan helped in Jesus’s parable. Or, as I like to say, I might have done even worse, like going over to the guy and saying, “What’s wrong with you! Get up! You’re not doing yourself any good down there.” And then gone about my business without another thought. I’m certain I still have remnants of that unawareness in my thinking and language I haven’t found yet. I do look, though.

    Mourning with those who mourn requires a steep emotional investment of your life in the life of another. Sometimes it’s just a short-term investment, but other times, in order to do anything meaningful for the person you’re mourning with (which meaningfulness is never guaranteed, or it might take other forms than what you intended), you have a long, long stretch of road that requires an emotional toll. That’s what it takes to stand with some people. I think it’s something you have to build up to, and if you haven’t built up to it, you’d better not try it because you’ll do yourself, and possibly them, some harm. I’m glad you’re one of the people who can do it. I do it better now than I used to because after all I’ve been through with M I understand better what’s necessary.

    I would like to hear how you picked up on how to mourn with those who mourn, if you feel inclined to say.

  24. # 19 gf: That’s a new thought for me and I don’t think I’m expressing it very well. Maybe you can help me rough it out better. What I’m trying to say is something like this — well, I’ll use myself just for discussion:

    Suppose I take my stance in relation to an other based on how clearly I perceive my moral condition and intellectual nature to be reflected back to me in his/her/its being. If I look at an animal or a disabled human and don’t see my own assumptions about moral and intellectual condition reflected back to me, then I assume (among other things) that means they don’t have the same moral condition or intellectual aptitude I consider myself to have. I might even take it a step further and assume they don’t have a moral condition or intellectual capacity worth exploring, especially since exploring that question would involve me having to explore my own moral and intellectual condition — a daunting task. So instead, I accept my ideas as given and act differently toward the Other than I would toward a being who does reflect my assumptions about morality and intelligence back to me. Which I think means that rather than examining my own ideas about morality and intelligence, I place the responsibility for my moral behavior toward the other being upon that being.

    I’ll stop there and see what you think.

  25. #22 Becky:

    Thanks for reading the post all the way through. I’m glad you found something of value there.

  26. Consciousness-wise, our minds occupy a kind of middle-earth, and I think the experience you articulate is related to that middle-earth-ian perspective.

    One one side, the discursive, dualistic mind is bounded by the unalloyed awareness that is always there (even in dreams), but that is more readily perceived when the discursive mind quiets for brief moments. And much though the discursive mind may try to “see” that awareness, manipulate concepts about it, and otherwise fool with it, in the end, the awareness is the seeing, and the discursive mind has to settle with mirroring it and then talking to itself about the awareness.

    On the other side, the discursive mind scribes a boundary between itself and all else, though I’m not exactly sure why. I suspect it has to do with reinforcing the discursive mind’s sense of itself as distinct and distinctive. But with the help of awareness, the discursive mind can see itself as just one more object of awareness, like a rock, a tulip, a steer, a child, or a lover. So the mind seems to stake a claim to — insist on — more-ness, unsatisfied with being an object, and it seems to do so based on various proclivities toward attachment, aversion, and delusion.

    At any rate, bounded on one side by awareness that it, literally, can’t grasp, and on the other side by lots of different objects, the mind tries to carve out a space for itself as something better than an object. Once it draws a line, it finds the line to be pretty arbitrary, so it starts to fortify the rationale for the line. Sometimes the rationales lead to a line shift — from “me/not me” to “family/not family” or “tribe/non-tribe” or “nation/not nation” or “human/not human.” There are lots of lines that get drawn, and all of them have some rationale behind them. I don’t mean to suggest that lines are irrational. They’re not. In fact, they’re the very operation of syllogistic logic. So long as you buy the major and minor premises.

    The part that I found most interesting in your sentence was the perception of the speaker’s implied conclusion that for one to be on the speaker’s side of “we/they” (or “human/not-human”) line the one in question had the burden of proof.

    That perception seems very consistent with much of my own instinctual thinking as well as what I’ve observed in others. And I think the “justify yourself to me” mind set is ultimately the discursive mind seeing (usually subconsciously) its own precarious state between awareness and objectification, recognizing an implied threat to its notion of itself in the person of another, and concluding that the best defense is a vigorous offense: “Prove to me that you’re more like me than not like me.”

    Jesus, it seems to me, with His alarming willingness to expand the circle of “me/not me” to include sinners, Samaritans, the insane, and pagan Roman soldiers (and, if you think about it, even the animals whose bloody, painful sacrifices He ended), seemed intent on either expanding the circle beyond His contemporaries’ comprehension, or, perhaps, on dissolving it, depending on how you read the gospels.

  27. gf, I can’t make out if you use the phrase “discursive mind” to set it apart from another kind of mind you haven’t mentioned — except, perhaps, in your reference to middle-earth consciousness (which naming draws a line that implies that there are other kinds of consciousness that lie beyond the line) and your allusion to “instinctual thinking,” which also seems to set itself apart, somehow, from the “discursive mind” — or if you mean that discursive minds are essentially what we are, with awareness fluctuating according to our states of self-consciousness.

    I believe “instinctual thinking” might be different from discursive thinking because my deepest experience with instinct suggests it’s quicker and more direct than reasoning and is perhaps closer to faith in how it crosses those inscribed lines without anything to go on (no clear-cut rationale). In my experience, Instinctual thinking offers a kind of “Here am I” response to a question asked below (or maybe above) the frequency reasoning operates at.

    For example, when my daughter was diagnosed as having suffered a severe brain injury before her brain was even much developed, my instinctual response was to provide her a constant point by which she might orient herself. Speaking of what happened objectifies it, but to put it simply I kept her touching me one way or another almost every minute of every day and night. Besides keeping constant physical contact, I sang and read to her, surrounding her with language. I guess I would call it a “Here am I” song I sang to her from some deep place I didn’t even know existed in me. No doctor or therapist suggested this way of addressing her (the way I was brought up certainly didn’t suggest it); in fact, most of the medical advice and testing and drawing of lines put to me that I ought to distance myself from her. And I had no reason to expect such an investment of relation would pay off in any way. I just did it, for months and then years. Slowly, louder and louder, she began singing a “Here am I” song back. A doc here or there who saw her regularly and noticed the marked changes — changes they didn’t expect — would exclaim, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing it.”

    That “here am I” response, to me, is the answer the — I’m going to say “soul” rather than “mind” — makes to the essential act of being addressed. I also imagine that certain “creative” forms of language are charged up with address and attract response, although in my opinion all the best language is creative rather than ascribing (i.e. “attributive”).

    It seems to me that this kind of being in the world is more expansive than the discursive “naming all the animals” being in the world we engage in as a matter of managing our daily affairs.

    Speaking of animals, about this: “Jesus expanded the circle of “me/not me” to include … even the animals whose bloody, painful sacrifices He ended …”

    Many years ago, a friend did me the great service of pointing out how the ancient Israelite practice of making animal sacrifice to satisfy requirements for trespass, guilt, and sin offerings meant that during periods where the people were more consumed with sin or were otherwise preoccupied with transgressing the laws of the covenant, animal deaths would escalate.

    The rituals of dedicating a sacrificial animal to God and making it the sacrificer’s proxy in the justice-redemption system as it was understood assigned moral qualities — or in this case, immoral ones — to animals in symbolic yet compulsive ways. I agree that Christ’s arrival on the scene released animals from this terrible surrogacy, fashioning as it did a new vision of accountability wherein man assumed direct responsibility for his immorality, offering up his own broken heart and contrite spirit instead.

  28. When you describe how you had to provide a point of contact with your daughter, and how you sang and continually reached out to her, I was reminded again of my own initiation into parenting. My instinct went against everything expected of me and everything I had envisioned. I had to wrap my body around that baby, breathe across her head, sing songs until I had no voice left, and rub the tops of her feet and hands. All at the same time, like some kind of Simon Says. And then she would startle awake and into full scream and we would start all over again. Here was a needy child who would not conform to expectations and assumptions. The entire social aspect of our relationship was stripped away before it ever began and something else had to build- out of nothing, for my parenting experience was as minimal as you can imagine- and what it was, I still struggle to find words for. It wasn\’t building any kind of text book social construct. It was more like colliding particles in a particle accelerator to form new worlds and new life. That\’s what it felt like, anyway (!). I bring this up because now with a second, very mellow child, I have discovered that she needs all the same things as the needy one does/did. Except she expressed herself in more social and socially acceptable ways. She was immediately labeled by others as \’a good baby\’. She tolerated what she did not like and so for a while no one even realized she didn\’t like it. She made such subtle expressions of her growing identity that it was like a detective mystery trying to coax clues from her. I came to realize that there are more things we need in this life that we don\’t realize we need, or even recognize exist, like healing touch or the weight of tone to a parcel of words. The needy ones illustrate these things more clearly to us when we have what might be called dulled hearing and blinded eyes. They certainly teach us in their own ways.
    Thanks for sharing what you have been learning. I think most of it, if not all, applies to all children everywhere.

  29. Lora, thanks for commenting. I like this: “I came to realize that there are more things we need in this life that we don’t realize we need, or even recognize exist, like healing touch or the weight of a tone to a parcel of words.”

    Yes, what I imagine to be the sustainable world. We’re in it, but we’re not engaging it.

  30. Hey Patricia, you make me want to pay more attention and do a better job. Thanks.

    You remind me how very alone and distant we are but for words, and what sacred powers and responsibilities are tied up in how we live with them. It’s wonderful to see you learning better to hear your daughter’s words, which is a way of teaching. What patience. . .

  31. P,

    I use the term “discursive mind” to refer to the part of my brain that has discussions — with others sometimes, but nearly always with myself. I think your distinction between it and what you term “soul” is a useful one. I’ve found on a number of occasions that there is, indeed, a distinct part of my mind that alerts and responds to the presence of others. It can be interesting to move into a meditative state of quietly observing discursive thoughts as they arise and subside, and then to have one of my family or our dog come into the room — then I see what seems to be an entirely different part of the mind zero in automatically on the presence of another.

    Is it “being”?

  32. 24 — I have good co-workers, and, when the crap hits the fan, we have each others backs. We’re good at putting out fires, and we don’t have fires all day every day. Some days are more exhausting than others — some days I just get paid to play with kids and watch movies. Other days, I earn what I get paid and then some. I’m sure you know about the days that are fires and the days that are just cake, and the ratio of one to the other.

    But what I do is less than what you do, and I want my understanding and acknowledgment of that to be clear. I spend about 18 hours a week directly dealing with kids, and 22 being available and keeping them safe while they sleep. Like right now. But, in about 100 minutes, I get to go home and sleep until I wake up, and then go back to sleep when I want to and sleep until I wake up again Monday. I can do what I do at the level of intensity I need to because I get to go home and recharge. You don’t have that same capacity — you’re there and doing it all the time, and, if you get respite, you don’t get nearly the break out of that that I do. I get paid to do what I do — you have to pay to get people like me to come in and give you short breaks. We’re on the same team, and are both worthy members of the team, but our service to the team is not equivalent — yours is greater.

    You don’t need to be everything M needs. None of us is ever all that our children need. The only parents who can be are the heavenly ones. You are doing what you can do, and are doing so in what sounds distinctly like a highly competent fashion. I can’t promise that you will be able to continue to be what you have been to her forever — I’m quite persuaded that my niece will not be, and I’m hopeful that letting them go won’t kill her when that time comes.

    Yeah, I’ve got war stories. I might put them together some time — I do storytelling sometimes, and I have considered making composite stories that I could tell that describe some of the experiences I’ve had or the experiences the kids I work with have had. It’s harder to find an audience that will hear those stories than it is to put the story together.

  33. Re: # 32 greenfrog: Thanks, I think I see better now what you mean when you say “discursive.”

    “Is it being?”

    (Hm, if I say “no,” what will happen? Will one of us disappear in a puff of smoke?)

    Yes, it’s being.

    It might be somewhat different being from what I intended when I said the word. I’ll open up my meaning and look at it more closely. I don’t think I’m as introspective as you are, at least not so distinctly.

    “and then I see what seems to be an entirely different part of the mind zero in automatically on the presence of another.”

    No kidding. In pulling out that sentence you did back in #19, you responded to the one sentence in this whole post and accompanying comments that was a direct response to you, a thought forming around statements you’ve made in discussions with others elsewhere. My sentence isn’t yet clear language, it’s still in nebulous state, yet you turned and looked.

    Last winter I walked out over a snow-covered trail near our house. As I started down a slope, movement on the knoll a few hundred feet ahead caught my eye. Two coyotes loped along the knoll’s flank, crossing open ground rather than taking to the pinyon-juniper forest growing everywhere else on that the knoll. I rarely see coyotes so close when I’m walking. I froze midstep, taken with the sight. I wondered why they had chosen to run across open ground when plenty of cover surrounded them. The coyote running near the crown of the knoll never looked at me directly nor expressed in body language anything but desire to put distance between us. But the second coyote loped easily between me and its friend, lagging slightly behind and a good thirty feet closer to where I stood. The two animals seemed bound by a tether that the closer animal controlled. That is, the coyote running near the crown seemed to want to disappear over it but followed the lead of its friend, who for some reason chose to display their presence rather than hide it. I focused my attention on this animal. As I watched, it stopped and, standing broadside, turned its head to look at me. I met its eyes. We exchanged a look lasting two to three seconds. Then the animal turned and followed its companion into the trees.

    It was like that, your turning to look at me through those words. I realize you’re a salientian rather than a canid, but you get the point.

    Now that I’ve got a better sense for what you mean by “discursive mind,” I understand better your intent in posing those one-line riddles that you do. Thanks for the wake-up calls.

  34. mlu said: “you make me want to pay more attention and do a better job.”

    Feeling’s mutual. I’m glad to have met you here.

  35. Blain, your following through here has comforted me and provided some relief. I’m glad you spoke up because your words put something especially meaningful (to me) back into the ground of this conversation.

    “We’re on the same team, and are both worthy members of the team …” Other people have said words like these and they rang brassy. Beyond being noises of good intent, they meant little because I supposed the people who said them lacked the context to know what was needful. You have the context. I feel the warmth of your kindness.

    “Yeah, I’ve got war stories. I might put them together some time — I do storytelling sometimes, and I have considered making composite stories that I could tell that describe some of the experiences I’ve had or the experiences the kids I work with have had. It’s harder to find an audience that will hear those stories than it is to put the story together.”

    Cool. I understand the need for composite stories and think that would be an excellent way to get across to people while protecting the sensitive relationships you have established with these kids. In fact, I think that in some ways I’ve probably said too much in one of my comments to you. Not to you, but in this open environment. Now that you’ve read that comment and responded, I’ll delete it.

    I would like to sit in the audience for these stories because I’ll bet I would learn a lot. I think they’re important stories and if they’re not told others who make less of matters will write stories that will corner not only the people they’re about but also the hearers of the stories. I believe it vitally important to keep these stories open rather than turn them into foregone conclusions.

    If you get something together, drop me a line at [email protected]. Also, if you want a copy of the comment I deleted, ask and ye shall receive.

  36. Patricia,

    Perhaps, as a casual observer, I can presume to interject here.

    There is an obvious sense to this discussion that is beng neglected — that mortality is burdensome, and is set of tasks to be completed and done with. The philosophy I find most common among the Saints is that mortal probation is very temporary. There are not a few of us who sometimes wish it were blissfully shorter.

    When I attend church funerals, the sense is almost always that an exit from this life is a sort of release. There is joy, that the departed will be reunited with loved ones long gone from this life. At that point we can lay down our worries and cares. This I look forward to with the same anticipation as other uncertain future events.

    It has nothing to do with killing our children — only looking forward to a time when present cares are laid to rest, and hopfully, a final reward of unmixed happiness for all of us.

  37. 35 — Then I’ve done what I was trying to do — to let you know the context my comments were coming from so you could understand the words I was saying a little differently. The reason people say things that sound hollow, or scary, is because it’s hard to look at what we look at all the time. Part of what we see in children that is attractive, I think, at a totally unconscious level, is their potential to grow up and become productive and contributing adults, even as they are innocent and not capable of understanding the complexities of the grown-up world. We see them developing the skills and styles that they will use i the grown-up world, and it assures us that the day will come when we will turn the world over to them in steps and layers the way we have been given the world in steps and layers. We want them to do this on the Royal Road to maturity and judgment, where nothing has to be hard or scary. It never works that way, since there is no Royal Road to those things, but seeing them can help us believe that there might be if we don’t look to closely. Some of these adorable little children are going to become the high-status and highly valued people in society, and we can say “I knew them when,” but they will all be real people with struggles and pain and disappointments. As was said in Conference yesterday, life is hard for everybody.

    But then you get to special needs kids, and that game is over. These are not the kids that are going to grow up to become president. They’re not going to discover the cure for AIDS. They’re not going to be astronauts or firefighters or Miss America. They’re going to max out all of their potential without being able to do things that normal children in grade school take for granted. They’re never going to be able to produce enough of anything with a market value sufficient to cover the expenses of their own existence, and the expenses of their existence aren’t going to be cheap. They’re not even going to always be children, who can at least be cute. The day will come, for some of them, when they will be special needs adults, who aren’t cute any more, and they may be strong enough and large enough that they are difficult to manage in such a way that they don’t hurt themselves or others. They will be hard, and they are hard, and there’s not going to be a point in mortality where it will be “over,” and we can go back to “normal.” It’s not like in the stories where, suddenly there is a break through, and all of that work and difficulty is justified by them shaking off the cocoon and showing that they are really butterflies, not caterpillars.

    Now, they are really butterflies, but we won’t get to see that in mortality, beyond hints and glimpses. And, because we are mortal, we don’t always instinctively understand in every moment that there is more to the story than mortality. If we do, then we want to skip this hard part and get to the part where everything becomes okay. It doesn’t work, because life isn’t on a DVD where you can fast forward through the tough parts.

    I think I’m getting a bit afield and rambly here — I got about for hours of sleep, and I’m going to watch/listen to some of today’s conference and then go back to bed.

    I will put the stories together. I have one roughly outlined called “The Boy who Ran,” and another called “The Girl who Hid,” and there will be another about a man and another about a woman, but I don’t yet knjow what they’ve done. These will violate a rule of storytelling, because these stories will tell the audience that they need to decide, individually, all of the externalities of the story. That probably doesn’t make sense, but I don’t want to flesh that out right now.. I might try writing it down and I will try to remember to send it to you when I do.

  38. Jim, come on in. You’re hardly a casual observer; you’re welcome on any of my threads anywhere and in any case I expect you’ll say something compelling.

    I understand your ideas about mortality, ideas you certainly share with a great many people, especially many Mormons, despite the talks we heard this weekend about loving the journey (or however it went). Friend, I’ve neglected this idea that mortality is burdensome because I don’t share it. This may simply be a matter of my poor, strange brain being wired differently from yours. It may be that I’m in denial. Or it might be that the idea that mortality is a burden is a wrong idea reached through wrong assumptions about the meaning of one’s experiences. Maybe it’s a right idea but there are better ideas.

    I believe I’ve been given about as many chances to decide that life is burdensome as some others, maybe less chances than some, and possibly more chances than many. Mortality being a stretch of immortality, it has an immortal mystery to it, an endless, here and now, “what’s around the next bend” attraction for me like the idea of crossing over into their eternal reward of unmixed happiness has for other people. In fact, wondering what’s around the corner in the here and now and driving forward to find out is a kind of “crossing over” for me. Since I see any given moment of mortality as being a part of immortality rather than apart from it, I guess I see any given moment as having eternity’s boundlessness to it and layer upon layer of meaning.

    I could have looked at my severely disabled daughter lying on the bed and thought, “Huh. She just made a soft noise when I asked her a question. Could she be trying to communicate? Nah. If her growing brain hadn’t been nearly half destroyed by a virus she’d be making a wider range of sounds as a prelude to talking. But she’s never going to talk. She’s never going to do anything much at all, and I’ve been robbed of the mother-daughter relationship I dreamed of when I learned I was pregnant. I don’t want this situation. But I’ll endure to the end — may it come sooner than later — and I’ll be glad when she and I are both relieved of it and God makes everything right in the next life.”

    But being the ironic optimist I am, what I did think was something more like this: “Huh! She just made a soft sound when I asked her a question! Could there be a connection between my asking her a question and her making a soft sound? If so, could she be making a reply to my question? Let’s ask her another question. Cool, she did it again! In fact, almost any time I ask her a question, she makes that soft sound. What does it mean? Let’s play around with this and see what happens. Man, I sure didn’t ask for this to happen and if I could go back and prevent it from happening, you bet I would. But here it is, it’s happened, and I’ll take it on as best I can. And wow, what a world! This whole business of having suffered a catastrophe has pointed up depths to life I hadn’t imagined.”

    I just can’t see the inevitable connection between mortal life and burdensomeness that you perceive with unwavering clarity. Is such a perception and its accompanying conditions so desirable and satisfying that you feel no inclination to wonder if some other prospect exists beside or beyond it? Is your reward of unmixed happiness totally dependent upon your perceiving life as being a burden? If God offered you the opportunity to receive your reward of happiness without the necessity of having to perceive life as a burden, would you take a second look at His offer?

    Sometimes I see the glory of the immortal shine on the mortal moment more clearly than other days. Some days I’m too tired to look up and see it. Sometimes I hit a stretch where I wonder if the glory has gone, kind of like ol’ Wordsworth: “But yet I know, where’er I go,/ That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.” But life — my life at least — is a highly changeable environment.

    So far, experience has shown me that there’s a lot more to any given moment than burden or freedom from burden. This isn’t an age-dependent perception because I’m only a few years younger than you are — unless my development is arrested, which I suppose it could be. There is hard work and a darned lot of it. In my daughter’s behalf, I’ve already put in years and years of caretaking and rehab work 24-7, and you still couldn’t get me to say I believe it has been a burden because I don’t even think in those terms. And if you twisted my arm to get me to say it, I’d say it lying just to get you to stop twisting my arm. Hard work that sometimes backs me into a corner — yes. A burden — no.

    You bet I’ve had rough stretches when I thought my life was gone. I did the hard here-and-now work, moment by moment, and bought it back bit by bit. Now I’m back to waking up some mornings feeling like I’m in love. Not with anybody or anything in particular. It’s just a manner of engagement with me. I appreciate it more than I did when I was younger, when it came so easily.

    Except for the fact I like you, I have nothing invested in getting you to rework the math on your mortal life = burden equation. You think what you want and I’ll still like you. I’m just sayin’.

  39. I should add to # 38 that as I’ve bought my life back it wasn’t the same life, it was more than it used to be. Even the bits were more.

  40. Patricia,

    I freely acknowledge that I may be entirely off track and that mere mortal language is a completely inadequate tool for such conversations, but the way you described “M”-created in my head a picture/word for “Liahona” that has enchanted me ever since.

    I’ve read your post now several times, and each time it hits me just as hard, testifies just as deeply, moves me beyond my skin and fingers and this plastic keyboard to a place where I can almost hear M’s laughter, see her sparkling eyes, and FEEL the glory and awe that must radiate from her constantly like a homing beacon from God sent to earth to remind us-“there is so much more than mortality”, “this place is not your home”, “do not forget”!

    I hold a hope in my heart that the brother who asked the question about M’s destiny only did so because he has not yet discovered one of the treasures that dwells close to this issue. He has not yet learned that while death is the conduit through which MOST human beings must travel to reconnect with the glory and love that dwells with God, for a lucky few, God cleverly conceals an extraordinary portion of that same love and glory inside of those earthly tabernacles that require His other children to come close and attend, to interact on a more spiritual and personal level by default.

    In other words, M’s life prevents God from being “held back” by mortality. She is the conduit that allows Him to dwell HERE with us, and to enlighten, inspire, uplift, transcend, and delight every person who is touched by the words of her mother in just this one post-forever. If there is anything greater and more glorious than dwelling WITH God, it surely has to be having Him dwell IN us, especially during this second estate.

    Thank you for sharing M with us. And tell her I think Monk is pretty hilarious myself. :-)

  41. # 37 Blain:

    “Now, they are really butterflies, but we won’t get to see that in mortality, beyond hints and glimpses. And, because we are mortal, we don’t always instinctively understand in every moment that there is more to the story than mortality.”

    My post here tries to suggest that there’s more to mortality than the story we tell about it.

    I teach in what might be considered a tough environment (but not as tough as yours!). In any given class I can expect to encounter what are considered to be disabilities. Some of the obstacles these kids have been born into could have been avoided if people knew better or paid closer attention to what they’re doing. That parents/community members etc. failed to do that is part of the story.

    Zoom in. I think I’ve told this story before, but it fits here. I had one student who wrestles with fairly serious ____ (fill in the letters). She exhibited all kinds of inappropriate classroom behaviors and was a disruptive presence. When she took the multiple choice reading competency test I administer three times/semester, she failed miserably. Her classroom behavior, however bad it might have been, suggested to me that she was smarter than she tested out as being. Looking at her answer sheet, I noticed she answered all the questions in the first third of the test correctly and all the answers in the other two-thirds incorrectly. Working at home with M had taught me to see boundary markers and I could see this student’s boundary markers. I wondered what would happen if I broke the test into thirds and administered them to her in thirds on separate days, creating a special circumstance which, according to the ADA, she had a right to. So I made the arrangements and convinced the student to agree to this. It took extra effort for me to run around making these arrangements and I had to make sure the student followed through. I did, she did, she scored a solid pass.

    In the long run, I don’t think my way of solving the problem did her much good. She still behaves badly at the mere sight of me. But I benefitted from this small insight, and if I’d had more time with her and didn’t have the extreme circumstances at home demanding attention I could have helped her more. Students like this consume a disproportionate amount of attention — unless they’re in an environment where teachers are able to approach them from a different angle. And those teachers must be able to pay attention and wonder what things mean rather than impose ready-made stories on the kids.

    M came out — not of her cocoon, that doesn’t work for me because the caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly metaphor doesn’t work in her case. She made it out of something more like a cave in that trapped her before she’d even had a chance to see the light of day. That she came out as far as she did speaks volumes about what was possible. She could have made it out farther if the social and medical environment hadn’t been formed of stories that closed hers off. She might not have been trapped at all if I’d been better educated about certain risks or made a different decision at one point or another. Like I said, there’s more to mortality than the stories we make of it. If we can learn to be more fluid in our narrative impulses, more ready to say, “Wait! The glass slipper doesn’t fit her! Does this mean that this is the wrong girl, the wrong slipper, or the wrong story?” then we’ll be opening out the story not only for those like M who rely on us to provide them narrative recourse but also we’ll open the story of mortality out for ourselves.

    Now I’m the one operating on a few hours of sleep. I’ll stop now so I don’t exceed my boundaries.

    Blain, I hope you remember to send those stories. I think we still have a lot to say to each other.

  42. # 40 quin: Your comment made me smile after a hard night. Thank you! One intent of this post was to give readers something they could use to perhaps make more of their own stories. You’ve done that rather brightly. It looks to me like you’ve found yourself a better story, one to keep building on. What a gift that you stopped by today!

  43. Patricia,

    I think you see things very clearly. I was not attempting to change your mind. Other people have a different perspective that is useful to them — or sometimes not. Either way, I think your point of view is what you have. It appears to serve you well. Don’t change a thing — especially not on account of my word.

    Stay well.

  44. It was like that, your turning to look at me through those words. I realize you’re a salientian rather than a canid, but you get the point.

    I suppose if I must choose, I’d rather be salientian than sapientian.

    Two things more:

    First, I’d never linked together the presence perception which feels quite tangibly distinctive with the experience of being seen (or seeing) in writing, but you’re absolutely right — they’re the same.

    Second, I had an experience two weeks ago while driving home on the freeway that reminds me of your coyote. In my case, it was a dog in the back seat of a pickup truck that happened to be enjoying the wind in its face. As the truck passed me, the dog turned to look me in the eye, looked forward again, glanced back quite frankly once again, and then was done with me and returned his gaze to wind. I’m not saying he looked humanly at me — that’s not it at all. He looked quite canid-ly at me. But it seemed to me that at the very base of the look was the same awareness that I see when I look in the eyes of my co-workers, my friends, my children.

    A bit unsettling, actually.

  45. It unsettled to me to look into my daughter’s eyes when she was born and not find her looking back in any way I could perceive.

    Another meet-the-eyes story:

    This spring, I walked out on my porch carrying a pitcher of fresh nectar to fill empty hummingbird feeders. Seeing the dog standing in the hot sun instead of in the shade, I stopped to wonder if she needed water or food. A black-chinned hummingbird flew over my right shoulder and into my line of vision, turned to face me, and hovered about a foot and a half out from my face, effectively interrupting my thoughts about the dog. Once it had my attention it flew back over my shoulder to the feeders, indicating the empty cups.

    “you’re absolutely right …”

    Strong words. I think I’d rather be absolutely wrong. If I’m absolutely wrong I can become more right. But if I’m absolutely right, I can’t become any more right, only more wrong. :)

    … In exchange for your “established order” riddle.

  46. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story, Patricia. I hope that you will submit it to Dialogue or a similar publication. Best of luck to you and your family.

    Arguably, the brother felt emboldened to ask this ‘question’ because he presumed to know the unknowable. We know very little about Heavenly Father and mortals rarely speak for Him. And when they do, I suspect, that neither they nor their audience know who speaks for God.

    It is moments such as this one when the confusion of faith for knowledge reveals the unethical extent of the error’s implications.

    Insofar as faith is not knowledge, when it comes to matters of life and death, skepticism is the part that ennobles faith.

    Mind you, that does not mean that we must always err on the side of life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer argued that our faith requires the assassination of the tyrant, especially, in the absence of divine intervention.

  47. Hellmut, I just found your comment here. If you’re still around, sorry for being slow on the uptake.

    Arguably, the brother felt emboldened to ask this ‘question’ because he presumed to know the unknowable.

    I think the person who addressed us with that question did so for several reasons, but one, I think, was to defend himself in some way, perhaps by reinforcing boundaries to preserve the familiar landscape of his faith. I’ve said elsewhere that mortal crises, such as we live in with our daughter, are highly charged spaces that challenge what people (myself included) think they know. “Questions” like his may be his attempt to affirm his faith, but the deeper desire is to prevent, put out, or contain those fires that the endless ironies and conflicts of mortal crises kindle like sparks from a downed power line. Hence, self-protection. Among other possible drives, I mean.

    The unethical extent of the error’s implications are indeed disturbingly broad. But we understand, don’t we, that co-opting the language of the sacred to justify an unethical intent or act is a common contrivance? As is confusing said co-option with the actual nature of the language of the sacred.

    Insofar as faith is not knowledge, when it comes to matters of life and death, skepticism is the part that ennobles faith.

    Do you mean skepticism regarding one’s own knowledge? If so, I agree; skepticism can reveal the edges of one’s own thinking and open up the wilderness of faith.

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