The Transformers

It is a truism that artists tend to be people who have pain that drives them to express themselves. Each day when I read “The Writer’s Almanac” I see that literary and political figures invariably have suffered painful childhoods with the loss of a parent or physical or emotional abuse from parents or peers or from debilitating illnesses. Some have lived lives of poverty. Some are the product of homes that didn’t feel safe.

Those people who are able to turn to writing literature or essays or compose great musical works are people who are able to transform the negative into something positive not just for themselves, but for others as well.

But famous people are not the only ones who have this gift for positive transformation. One of the things that moved me when I was working with families of adults with developmental disabilities and mental retardation was what happened to the rest of the family. In general, I found both parents and siblings of these very challenged and challenging people to be exceptional in a number of ways. Most of the parents were devoted to their children, patient and understanding. They were able to give and give and they were also able to derive pleasure from the smallest accomplishment of their disabled child. The siblings were even more impressive because they have not raised this person from childhood and therefore invested nurturing and love in them. They were children whose lives were altered because of their disabled sibling. I am certain they missed parties and events because parents were in the hospital with their sibling who was having seizures or self-abusing or getting over a choking episode. They lived with friends who may have questioned them about their siblings and perhaps made fun of the sibling or of the child him/herself. What did I observe? A very large percentage of these siblings went on to become doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists. They turned their experience into something that would help others. They learned to be caregivers and they extended that caregiving to others.

Most of us are not challenged in such dramatic ways. Most of us have painful experiences that are transient. We can choose to allow them to immobilize ourselves in sadness or anger or grief or, after a reasonable time, we can transform them into directions that enrich ourselves and the people around us.

When people search for the meaning of God’s role in the world, I am often mindful of that specific type of transformation, for in reaching into the chaos of our lives and pulling out something positive and healing, we are joining with God in the work of Creation.

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  1. frank spigel says

    Sadly I know aparent whose child had down’s syndrome. In my opinion the father’s marriage fell apart,because he did not spend time with his son.
    The mother was very good to her son. The child died at about 18 or 19.He did have an older sister, who today is married and has 2 children.
    On the other side I know an example of a loving family with a disabled child who celebated a Bar Mitzvah a few years ago, and it was very emotional.

  2. Dear Rona,
    Having worked with people who have developmental disabilities and their families for almost 30 years I agree with you totally. They are the most special people and have certainly enriched my life and the lives of those around them.
    L’hitraot, Gail