About 8 years ago, I attended a conference at a School for the Blind I will not name to learn about the options for transitioning visually impaired toddlers to preschool.
During a panel presentation of expert educators at the school, a grandmother sitting down the aisle from me raised her hand. She stood and asked about the diagnosis her grandbaby had just received, “It’s called cortical visual impairment. I’d like to know what we can do to help her.”
At that point, my daughter was going on 3 years old. I had been researching CVI and how to modify our home environment for Eliza for a couple of years. We had seen Dr. Roman-Lantzy a couple of times. I was waiting to hear the experts recommend her book or mention that vision can improve with accommodations – with education. I wanted to hear what this panel had to say – maybe they knew something I didn’t.
Then, one of the experts told the grandmother and the whole auditorium of parents from all over the state that there was nothing she could do. CVI might improve. It might not. At her granddaughter’s young age, she would just have to wait and see and hope her vision improved.
Wait and see and hope.
If that is the most passive piece of advice you’ve ever received, then raise your hand – or wait – Don’t raise your hand: Stare at your hand and wait for it to raise itself.
Yes, there are times when a situation is beyond your control and the only thing to do is to wait and see and hope. I am familiar with these times.
There are also times when you create hope through your actions.
It’s important to be able to tell which is which.
The experts went on to the next question. The grandma sat down and folded her hands in her lap. My jaw fell open. I wanted her to ask a follow up question. I wanted her to ask why they thought there was nothing that could be done for an infant with CVI.
I wanted to stand up and tell them they were dead wrong. Neuroplasticity makes an infant’s brain open to learning: It makes new pathways for functional vision possible. The time to begin working with her granddaughter was yesterday.
I wanted to reach across the aisle – across the other families separating us – so I could pat her hand and tell her that she had not been given the right information.
I sat in my seat and stewed. I didn’t feel as though I knew enough to raise my hand in front of a crowd to contradict the very people who were hosting the conference. It was frustrating and surprising that a school could be giving wrong information to families.
I regret that silence.
I regret not sharing my story with that grandmother.
I regret not asking her for her story.
My silence did not serve anyone that day. Because I stayed silent, that woman remained alone. Sitting down the aisle from her, I remained isolated from her. We left and went our separate ways.
I hope she went home and continued researching. I hope she found the support she needed. I wish it didn’t have to be so difficult to sort out accurate information about cortical visual information and how to support children with it.
I have thought about silence a lot over the years.
How silence keeps people separated. How silence allows incorrect information to stand uncontested.
I have thought a lot about hope.
Being hopeful can be a very vulnerable place to live. For every one person who agrees with you, there are twenty who look at you funny and wait for your high expectations to come crashing down. For every one person who offers a hand, there are twenty who are quick to step back with a snide comment or a sigh.
Cynicism is easy. It requires no effort at all. It is dull and lifeless. Cynicism is fueled by fear – fear of exposure, fear of failure, fear of judgment.
Hope can be hard. Hope requires energy. Hope is fueled by love. Thankfully, love is the easy part. We have an abundance of it.
Sometimes, if you are lucky, you find words artfully put together that capture a feeling you carry around with you. Finding them makes you feel less alone. Sharing them makes your heart happy as though the words could stretch out to embrace someone the way they embraced you.
Recently I was lucky enough to stumble upon words that described my favorite kind of hope. The hope I know what to do with.
“Though hope may sometimes seem like a luxury – frivolous, groundless, insubstantial – it is precisely the opposite.
Hope is elemental. It is made of some of the strongest stuff in the universe.
Hope does not depend on our mood, our disposition, our desire.
Hope does not wait until we are ready for it, until we have prepared ourselves for its arrival.
It doesn’t hold itself apart from us until we have worked through the worst of our sorrow, our anger, our fear.
This is precisely where hope seeks us out, standing with us in the midst of what most weighs us down.
Hope has work for us to do.
It asks us to resist going numb when the world within us or beyond us is falling apart.
In the height of despair, in the deepest darkness, hope calls us to open our hearts, our eyes, our hands, that we might engage the world when it breaks our hearts.
Hope goes with us, step by step, providing the sustenance we most need.”
–– Jan Richardson, The Cure for Sorrow
This is what is rattling around in my busy head these days, fellow families. Some days, some years are like that I suppose. Most days I do my very best to listen to what hope tells me to do. There is work to be done.
Every day, I know that cynicism is a luxury I cannot afford. I know that.
On the days, I can’t listen to the “to-do list” hope has for me, I am comforted by the fact that there are others who will listen for me until I can engage the world again with a broken and fierce heart.
This is me waving from my little corner of chaos to yours with affection and flowers of particularly popular colors I’m sure you can appreciate.