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.
YIMG_3244ou 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.


7 thoughts on “Proust Over Paine

  1. Just keep reminding him of how special he is. Maybe he will not think much of your words today, but as he grows older, those words will stick with him. Your children all seem to be wise beyond their years. He, and your other boys, are great. I love reading about them. We all have struggles in our lives, some more than others. The ones with the most to overcome are often the most successful.

  2. I’ll take Proust and the world will take Edgar. He just doesn’t realize it yet. We can only take the ride with Edgar alternating as “pilot and co-pilot”.

  3. Edgar, and others, first judge him by standards that require adjustment. We like to think children are individuals, but too often we race to put them into boxes and categories that are like straight jackets.
    Edgar’s question is really a reflection of how he perceives how others see him, and his challenges allow his self-esteem to prosper just high enough so when a lawn mower, i.e. a cutting remark, mows it back, he feels the injury.
    Adjusting to his body is less possible than it is for most because his body has done the unexpected and will never provide that security of knowing what to expect.
    In time, he can appreciate that mystery. None of us know what our bodies have in store but Edgar has already gotten jolts of surprises that really put him beyond his peers in the resiliency area and it is that experience, among others, that deserve attention and recognition.
    “Smart,” and “Stupid,” are indeed general standards and one can imagine the sources of the words, but encouraging responses that will make critics think twice may never be as stinging as what he hears, but could give him some satisfaction.
    For example:
    “And you saying that about me, says what about you?”
    “I’m working with my abilities, you should try it.”
    “Not nice.”
    “Who are you to judge?”
    As he ages self defense will kick in and language will develop that may be more pointed, but in the meantime, as painful as his development is to witness, he brings it to adult sources and learns love in so many more ways.

  4. “Smart” and “stupid” are a narrow and common interpretation of intelligence – an academic measurement of rational/logical thinking. I love Armstrong’s multiple intelligences because the categories allow us to recognize every human being’s capacity to know the world, and that every human being knows the world through multiple intelligences. Your children never seem to miss the meaning of their experiences – but of course their mother does an excellent job of capturing the experience and distilling the meaning for our – and their – greater edification.

  5. As one who faced childhood (and adult) epilepsy, as well as a myriad of other childhood challenges, I also felt as Edgar did. Sad to say, my self-esteem took a great hit as a child and did not recover for many many years. Although the conflict was hard, the triumph has indeed been glorious. While I don’t remember every individual childhood challenge or pain, I remember it sucked! And I remember my self esteem was in the toilet up through my teens and early twenties. When I came through these struggles though, I was so much the stronger and prepared to face ANY HARDSHIP. In fact, one reason I am strong enough to foster children and return them home is because I know I can get through anything. For me coming back involved finding God, but maybe for others it may just mean they gain strength and a belief that they can overcome. I would not wish hardship on any child, but these hardships will make Edgar stronger, more compassionate, and more centered than he would have previously been. That is just the nature of life. Thank God he has such a supportive family and community around him. Now. . . How about that playdate we have been talking about?? We miss you all!

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