“Joyce, my daughter feels so dumb. She used to think she was ok, but after a year in this honors program at USC, she feels like she’s surrounded by geniuses. She cried and cried. She feels completely inadequate. I told her it was okay, but my heart was breaking to see her feeling that way.”
Wow, did that conversation ever bring back a flood of memories for me. I told my other-mom-friend that boy, could I relate to her daughter’s feeling, after 8 years at Harvard (4 in the college, 4 in the med school). I used to have nightmares about being in genetics seminar and not having the faintest idea what everyone was talking about, or making it all the way to the end of the semester with barely a shred of understanding to get through my advanced biochemical thermodynamics final exam. I recalled all the one-ups-man-ship going on during rounds as a medical resident, the constant tearing down and clawing up I observed on a regular basis.
By contrast I thought of a story St. John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla), one of the most popular popes in modern history, used to tell. During the terrible Nazi occupation of Poland, working as a delivery boy and quarry worker, he was greatly helped and guided by an unassuming man named Jan Leopold Tyranowski. Tyranowski was a tailor who served as a spiritual mentor in a discipleship program called the Living Rosary, created to support Polish youth in their Catholic faith during the tumultuous war years. Karol would always remember the humble tailor’s teaching on suffering and how it can draw us closer to God. After becoming pope, he wrote how Tyranowski was “one of those unknown saints, hidden like a marvelous light at the bottom of life, at a depth where night usually reigns.”
And I thought of Peter, the child of my heart who can’t talk, can’t get his body to move where he wants to go half the time, but wrote yesterday, “I fly my soul like a kite at the end of a string of words.” Peter has completely changed me. It’s as if he removed the blinds from my eyes to see what’s really important about a person and a person’s life. It’s not the externals, the wealth, popularity, looks, or even “accomplishment” that makes a person precious and sacred, that’s for sure. It’s the soul within. The one who cares, feels, values, decides, and tries. And that has little to do even with intelligence, social skills, or praxis. The inner seat lies even deeper than that.
“It’s ok, Myra, it really is. Tell her that she and her friends are all plenty smart enough to do a lot of good. How smart you are, how high you can jump, how fast you can run, are gifts from God, why should anyone boast about it? God cares about what you do with your gifts, because that shows what’s in here,” I said, pointing to her heart. “Just put your arms around her, and tell her with all you heart and mean it, “The rest really matters not at all.”