On the whirlwind day of our transfer from Children’s Hospital to The Hospital For Sick Children, we had the privilege of meeting with a most warm and engaging developmental psychologist. The Boy is a part of a study tracking kids with similar heart conditions to see how they develop and overcome their extra challenges (e.g., his 59 minutes of complete circulatory arrest during the first surgery, the various interventions past and future, and his ongoing state of extreme hypoxia). They’ve monitored the oxygen levels in his brain at various points along the way, and given him some general clinical assessment. But on this day, we were privileged to have the Doctor herself and an able assistant do a physiological/psychological hands-on assessment. They looked at reflexes, eye movement, hearing, reactions, and many other elements. The whole experience was very reassuring (he’s well on in his development, even compared to unhospitalized babies) and educational. But it also seemed very Jesusy to me, too.
Now, I’m not saying that she holds the keys to life, or that I’m going to sell everything and follow her around or anything. I’m not even saying that I ascribe to all of her ideas. It’s just that what she said seemed so true, and yet so unexpected, that I had to sit up and take notice. She didn’t impose herself in any way (though she could, as she had seen me trying to comfort Ella in some of her less endearing moments in the hallway outside her office for the previous month) or say or suggest anything direct. But in so doing, she only made her ideas that much more compelling.
It reminded me of a great insight proffered by Doug Pagitt in his book, Preaching Reimagined. There, he suggested that instead of a preacher taking the Bible and applying it to the lives of the congregation, we instead look at the Bible together, so that we might be implicated by it. Narrow interpretation and application is not only presumptuous, but it is not nearly as transformative as the experience of an entire community of faith being exposed to something true and bigger than themselves and allowing that larger reality to affect us.
This distinction between application and implication was what struck me most about my encounter on that day. For her commendation of a relatively low-stimulation environment –while unconventional and countercultural—somehow seemed quite right. She didn’t directly condemn the bed full of noisy, colorful toys, but her suggestions and comments offered an indirect indictment of them (or, at least their cumulative effect). All of which only made me that much more interested. If she had come in with some hard-line stance or absolute perspective, I’m quite sure I would have written her off. But because she seemed to have nothing to prove, I was more all the more inclined to listen to her.
She had some impressive credentials and some serious street cred (a grown son who was born with a cleft lip and palate). She had Jesusy aphorisms (today, we call them ‘sound bytes’): “Einstein didn’t have ‘Baby Einstein’, and Mozart didn’t have CD’s.”, and she cited less research (which I’m sure she has) than common sense. More than that, though, she had killer responses to my questions. At one point, hopelessly interested, I noted the countercultural nature of her perspective, and asked about other resources for these ideas. The question wasn’t driven by doubt, but rather by a sincere desire to learn more. But her answer ably handled either possibility: “there aren’t really any books written from this perspective—don’t you trust me?,” she said with a glimmer in her eye, and a wry smile on her face. Hers was a scathing indictment of conventional wisdom, given with a kind of complete confidence mixed with utter humility. A tiny fist, raised against a multi-billion-dollar toy and ‘edutainment’ industry.
And the ideas have stayed right in the front of my consciousness ever since.