Sunday, August 10, 2014

If Everyone Was Blind

Lately I can't help but wonder what our world would have been like if we were all born blind. When I first started my masters program in counseling, one of the concepts we learned about that resonated with me was how damaging labeling can be. Saying, she's "depressed" or "anorexic" can lead to the person suffering from such conditions to feel defined as such. And only as such. Once a person is defined as one thing or another it's much more difficult to reframe that thought and become who you truly are. Believe me, I know.

Like most things I learned about human behavior, counseling and sociological "stuff" during my years of undergrad and graduate studies, I was able to take this idea and view it in the grand scheme of life, not just counseling. It's part of why I loved being in school. Concepts like this helped me to make sense of the world around me a little bit more. While I was always cautious of placing labels on others anyway, and I remain aware of such things, this isn't an idea I've deeply contemplated in some time.

The other day I was standing in the shower attempting to let the warmth of the water falling on my shoulders wash my worries and stress away when I found myself doing what I usually end up doing with my sole 15 minutes of solitude... contemplating humanity and what the heck is wrong with the world! I came to realize that so many of our problems come from judgments of each other. Labels. I also thought how most of those labels come from our very first impression of another and that first impression is mostly dictated by simply looking at the person. What I ended up thinking was... I wonder what the world would be like if we were all born blind.

If we couldn't see the color of someone's skin... if we couldn't see the cross hanging around their neck... if we couldn't see the hijab or kippah covering their head, the tattoos down their arms... If we couldn't see the kind of car they drive or the size of their house or the clothes they wore... if we couldn't see how short or tall they were, fat or thin, or the size of a woman's breasts...

What if the only first impression we had could be based on how kindly a person greeted us, or unkindly? What if we only had the ability to "judge" another based on their words and actions alone? I wonder what would the world look like then. Would we be more willing to give those who give off a poor first impression a second chance? Would we find ourselves shying away from the man walking down the street who wears his pants a bit "too low" and whose skin is a bit "too dark"? Or would we simply sense a human being walking towards us and politely smile and warmly say "hello"? Would we start whispering about a man boarding the plane with payot (sidecurls worn by various groups of Orthodox Jews) and think that's weird so we shouldn't not talk to him? Would we point and gawk at the family going down the road in a horse and buggy in the 21st century?

People who are different than us tend to make us uneasy. We judge and we question them; maybe even questioning their sanity or our safety being around them. We back away rather than offer a warm handshake. Or at least a smile or nod of the head acknowledging the other person's existence. I mean, the least we can do is acknowledge a person's existence, right?! Yet we don't. Far too many of us simply don't. Instead, we form a judgment or place a label on the person. And many of those judgments lead to dislike and worse yet, hate. Hate for no real reason other than the fact the person is different than us.

As a Jew I've been more keenly aware of these judgments over the past years as anti-Semitism has been rapidly growing again. Not only in Europe where it's reached frightening levels, but in the US and around the world as well. A Rabbi walking to Temple was just shot and killed yesterday in Miami. And people question if this was a hate crime? Ignorance is bliss when it's not your people being targeted for extinction. I hear so many in disbelief over the atrocities going on in Iraq with the ISIS brutally killing women, children and men, burying them alive in mass graves, raping and selling women into slavery and forcing conversion or guaranteeing death.

While I've always had a difficult time wrapping my head around my own people's history of these same type of crimes against humanity, I've always been achingly aware that such hate does in fact exist. I'm not shocked by such stories. I've heard about them from my own people's history and am well aware that such heinous acts are committed far more often than I would like to think about.  Mind-numbing, earth-shattering, truly unthinkable acts of violence are committed against other human beings all in the name of hate. Hate bred by judgments, by labels, by being blinded by ignorance and generations of untruths told about groups of people who are different from you and from me.

I remember learning my Jewish history and reading about being expelled from nearly every country we've ever lived, including our homeland of Israel thousands of years ago... a couple times. We were forced to convert or die, experimented on, humiliated in ways that brings tears to my eyes to even try to imagine. Collectively as a people who have been questioned on why we never fought back (which isn't true, we did) we have said, ENOUGH! And yet every time we fight to defend our right to survive we are ostracized and condemned by the world and viewed as the type of evil those who try to exterminate us have taught their children we are. We are viewed as such evil not only by those who hate us, but by those who can see and even accept our differences, yet remain blind to the reality of what hate really is. Thus, blinded from the truth and understanding of the bigger picture and what's at stake.

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people. The kind who still believe that we can all get along and that will be enough. I wish I could believe it was possible to simply lay down our weapons and join hands and sing kumbaya with all those who hate us. As a Jew, I realize we won't survive if we are as na├»ve as we've been throughout history. We won't survive if we do not take these threats very seriously. Some may think we are over-reacting. That I'm over-reacting. I say, would you risk your life and that of your children by under-reacting? We are a people who desire peace and want nothing more than for all living things to love one another. Our scripture and covenant with God demands that we work to achieve just that. We forgive and we love. That's what being a Jew is. We fight the battles that make our hearts weep for the innocent lives lost because we know that our love of life and desire to survive will ultimately be the light that shines brighter than all the darkness of hate. It has to be or nothing will be left to fight for.

Those who label, who judge, who hate... they have somehow lost their ability to love. Or at least to love more than they hate. Without the ability to love, you lose your humanity. Without love in your heart you are capable of the unspeakable. Without love, you feel no remorse because your hate tells you what you are doing is right. Some may call that the devil at work. I'm not sure what it is, but it isn't God's hand at work, I know that much.

So I ask myself... would any of this be the way of the world if we were all born blind? In a way we are I guess. We're born innocent. We don't really notice the color of another's skin and we pay no mind to those who dress different, wear their hair different... until around the age of 3. Or until someone older points it out to us. Perhaps I should be wondering if we all lost our sight around the age of 5 or 6, would so many of us still be full of hate? I honestly don't believe we would. If all the books that preach to hate another group of people because they are different were burned and all the histories were taught as they actually occurred and we all lost our ability to judge by first sight once we were cognizant enough to realize that not everyone is the same, I think we would find ourselves in a very different world. A loving and accepting world perhaps.

Since I know none of that is possible, I truly have no answers for these questions that plague my heart. I've never been good at coming to a solid solution to the woes of the world and how to wipe out the sins of hate, jealousy and greed. My thoughts swim with the why's of it all and the how's of teaching my kids to hold on to their love and innocence. To be accepting of all people, even if they don't accept us. I know I can't protect them from all the hate that exists out there. It scares me beyond words knowing that so much of that hate is directed towards their sweet and pure little hearts by millions of people who have never even met them, yet hate them and would be happy to see my babies die simply because they were born different than most. This is reality. And it's not one I wish on any mother.

My heart aches for all those in Iraq and Syria and around the world facing this reality right now as they stare down the barrel of a gun or watch the axe fall on their own children's heads. I have no words. My heart just weeps. My wishing for the world to go blind so we can cease from judging and hating one another is just a silly notion of a scared mother praying such hate never gets it's hands on my own children. And praying that it releases it's grasp on all those it's already found. I wish I had the answer. All I can do is keep loving and not allow my heart to hate those who hate me.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Highstakes Blackjack

In ten days we go for our first follow up since starting our daughter on growth hormones. As some of you may know, I fought like crazy to avoid injecting what I viewed as a man made foreign substance into my daughter's body every day for what could be as long as a decade. In many ways, I still view her injections as such that it makes my heart flutter and body cringe with the thoughts of what's exactly being injected into her.

As with anything in the world of parenthood, I heard the varying opinions of everyone. Do it, give her a chance! Are you sure she needs it? Don't do it, don't put that stuff in her body! The last one screaming the loudest from my own thoughts as I, perhaps a little obsessively, thought of all the ways I have tried to keep her body as clean as possible from chemicals and the plethora of other contaminates we have littered our air, water, land with. All I could think was, what was the point if I was destined to inject her with at least some of that nastiness, every, single. day. I've found a bit of acceptance by understanding this is a hormone, like insulin for diabetics, and it's replacing what she's lacking, not adding something

I knew parenting would be hard. I didn't quite comprehend just how excruciatingly difficult some decisions would be, especially when everyone has a strong opinion and research always seems to contradict itself with each new study. While breast feeding may be a hot topic in the parenting world, for some bizarre reason I can't quite fathom, and the battling opinions over immunizations practically cause people to resort to all out brawls, my most challenging decision to date is without a doubt whether to go forward with giving my daughter growth hormones derived in some lab. Before all the opinions and judgments reign down... two years of testing indicated that her body wasn't producing enough of this essential hormone on it's own. Could I have more tests done? Sure. Could I repeat the growth hormone stimulation test using different medicines to test the levels again? Sure. But at some point, as a mother, I needed to make a decision and I felt that two years of every doctor telling us the same thing was enough for my little girl to endure.

While my gut still holds on to the feeling I should not do this, my heart tells me it's ultimately the best decision I could make with the hand I was dealt. Sometimes that's what parenting feels like, actually. Like you're playing multiple games of blackjack with every penny to your name on the table and you need to decide whether to hit or stay with each hand and then wait to see what the dealer turns. While the idea of such high stakes gambling gives me anxiety just thinking about it, making such a decision that impacts the life of the only thing you deem precious beyond, well, life itself, is quite frankly beyond any level of anxiety I've ever battled. In the end, I guess that's what most parenting decisions are though. Even the seemingly small ones can have a profound impact on our little ones lives.

In some ways, I've come to terms with my decision. I repeatedly tell myself it was the best option I had with the cards I was dealt, keeping with my blackjack analogy. I try to accept the choices I make each day and pray that something greater than myself has a plan. And that I'm making the right choices that are in line with that plan and they will lead us all down the path of health, peace and happiness. Perhaps my faith is wavering because I've always struggled with fully accepting my decisions. I often second guess and then return to third and fourth guess and so on. I wish I could just let go and let it be. To have faith. To accept.

Perhaps it's simply in my Jewish nature to constantly question and maybe I have more faith than I think. Questioning what is and constantly reevaluating for the best possible outcome for all is basically how the book was written for us Jews. Despite this, that doesn't give me the peace I seek. The peace that I'm helping my daughter and not hurting her. The peace that this was in fact the right decision and will benefit her in the long run. That these injections will benefit her health and not cause potential issues down the road. That they will make her chances for reaching puberty, and thus the ability to have her own children to fret over, a more guaranteed outcome.

Most people think I decided to give her the shots because she's so tiny. And most don't understand the need because I'm tiny. Everyone on both sides of our family are small so it wouldn't be a big deal if she was too. Even with the injections she will still be small. Her genetic potential is 5'1" and giving her growth hormone only gives her the possibility to reach her genetic potential. Regardless, it wasn't about her gaining height but ensuring she had enough of this necessary hormone for the rest of her body to develop appropriately that convinced me to agree to the treatments.

I found a support group online but most of the people there are predominately focused on the height. I can understand that when your son has the potential to reach 6' and is negative on the charts. A good number of the people in the group have fought for a long time for their child to receive growth hormone therapy while I was battling against it for nearly two years. Basically, this leaves me feeling like the odd mom out and alone with all these mixed feelings. Everyone in the support group who understands this plight can't understand why I wouldn't want my child to receive the treatment and everyone whose child grows normally simply doesn't understand. Though all of my friend's compassion and support goes a long way.

In the end, support group or not, I'm on my own with these feelings and questioning my decision no matter what. My husband wanted it from the start but agreed to do whatever I thought was best. Or at least allowed me to be as comfortable as I could be with it all before starting treatment. We're starting our third month of treatment and as I said, we go for a follow up in just over a week. While I'm anxious to know if she's grown, as that's really the only perimeter to gauge if it's working, I'm still left with the constant feeling of uncertainty. Uncertain if this is the right course of action. Uncertain if I should do more. Get more tests, more opinions. Something! Considering she's five, I have a long wait until there's any type of certainty that this was the right decision. That it helped.

So, each day I turn back to the hand I was dealt and I look at my cards. I go through all the possibilities and hold my breath as I hope and pray that taking the hit was the right move to make. Too bad the stakes aren't simply every penny to my name. They are so much higher. I think back to celebrating my 23 birthday in Vegas and almost laugh because never could I have dreamed then that being a parent would be like this.

As nerve-wracking as it is to wait nearly a decade to see if this was the right path to take for my daughter, I can't help but to also be thankful that this is the hardest decision I've had to make to date. She's healthy and we are blessed for that; compared to so many other parents that suffer the unimaginable. Her adventure seeking personality may not be thrilled that she's still too small for all the big rollercoasters she's determined to ride, but she's a happy little girl. Ultimately, that's what is important. I just need to remind myself that we live in the now and what will be will be.

Who said acceptance and living in the present was easy? Oh right, the same person who said being a parent is a cake walk. At the moment I guess I need to settle for a draw and wait for the next hand to be dealt. And keep marking that growth chart.

My 5 and 3&1/2 year old.
We are asked daily if they are twins.