Proust Over Paine
I drove by a church today—one with a sign out front that typically showcases thoughtful if not pithy quotes for the amusement and edification of passersby. Today’s referenced Thomas Paine’s “The harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph.”
In the past when I have encountered this message—either with my students or on my own—I have nodded in acquiescence, been able to come up with countless historical if not personal examples where this has indeed been the case.
But something has shifted, something has changed recently, and seeing this quote today left me pondering and more than a little empty.
You see, yesterday Edgar, my beautiful, intelligent whimsical son who happens to take medication for both epilepsy and ADHD, said something that left me reeling.
“I don’t like myself because I don’t know if I’m stupid or smart . . .”
This isn’t the first time he has questioned his self-worth, and this isn’t first time he has articulated a lack of knowing and/or liking himself.
As a parent, comments such as these do nothing if not eviscerate me. And if that’s how I’m feeling, I can only begin to imagine what this all must feel like for Edgar.
If Paine is (or was) right, then the challenges Edgar faces today will make every success and his eventual triumph all the sweeter. But I’m not buying it. Since he won’t have much of a memory of life before epilepsy or ADHD, he’s not going to have a source of comparison—or contrast. More glorious or sweeter than what? Than if he didn’t have these conditions, didn’t need significant medication to treat them?
What I do believe is that as much as it pains me to know that my son houses these mindsets, they are his. I cannot tell him not to feel that way. I cannot—with the flick of my wrist or the wink of my eye–invalidate the thoughts that reside in his seven-year-old mind.
And what I know is that this is his journey and his alone. To try to negate what he’s saying or sweep it under the rug or dismiss it might, in effect, serve only to disarm him, to deny him the skills he is going to need to continue on, to fight the daily battle that is his own.
Marcel Proust said, “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”
And there is my charge—the most difficult of my life in word and deed. I cannot spare my son this journey, though painful for me to watch, for it is his path to wisdom. To wish otherwise would be to thwart his growth, which is antithetical to the call of any parent.
I will love my son, respect him, bolster him, and be by his side. But I cannot take away his pain. I cannot spare him his journey. What I am is grateful that I am permitted to join him on it.