There’s a phrase that’s popped up in recent years — “Let go and let God”. Perhaps it is this decade’s version of the oft-quoted Serenity Prayer asking for the wisdom to differentiate between the things we can change and those we cannot. Given the recent “Aha” moments in my life, these two phrases have begun to resonate in a new way, inspiring me to add a third — “God in His infinite wisdom.”
For the past few years I have been blessed to be accepted to the Ragdale Foundation, a writers colony in Lake Forest, Illinois. While at Ragdale I am given the time and space, free of distractions, to write.
The application process is similar to what our kids go through in their senior year of high school: essays, work samples, why this applicant deserves a spot, recommendations. But last year I was neither waitlisted nor accepted but flat out rejected. It was a blow especially because, deeply into writing a novel, I craved the peace and focus that Ragdale affords.
And then a spur of the moment invitation arrived. A resident had dropped out. Could I come six weeks hence? Oh boy howdy yes! During my three-week stay I made major strides on my novel, met a woman who promised to introduce me to her agent, and was embraced by a group of delightful younger artists and writers. In the end the agent passed on my novel but not before advising me to cut nearly 100 pages and give it a new title. I followed through on both counts and am now shopping around a much stronger novel. One of the thirtysomethings, a graphic designer, offered my college-age daughter a summer job as her intern.
What had begun as a huge disappointment had a Tiffany-worthy silver lining. And perhaps that initial flat-out rejection had nothing to do with me.
God in His infinite wisdom might have had other plans that had everything to do with my daughter, Emma, who is a studio arts major in college. This job is a major opportunity. Emma will be working for someone who is making a living in a creative field. She will be making connections that will help her after she graduates. Amanda will undoubtedly teach Emma techniques she can use in her own art. I always knew Emma had a huge river in creativity running deep within her sweet soul, I just never imagined the watershed event that would set it cascading.
I had also always felt in my mother’s gut that all of Emma’s educational testing had missed something. We squared away the attentional issues early on, then the math confusion; Emma worked hard and dutifully in school but the classroom was far from her favorite place on earth. She never liked reading. Like those of so many bright kids, Emma’s scores ran the gamut from highly gifted to marginally competent. We had come to see Leo the Late Bloomer as our own personal totem.
And then a fluke eye exam when Emma was fifteen became the key that had eluded us all those years.
Our family eye doctor retired, referring us to someone whose vision testing included finely tuned calibrations that measured how Emma actually saw the printed word. And boy was that a revelation. Not only didn’t Emma’s eyes track together, she had trouble maintaining the visual continuity to look at the board, look at the reading material on her desk and then back to the board. Black letters on a white page vibrated like a “SEE ROCK CITY! highway billboard.
And if that wasn’t enough, Emma’s brain processed not only individual letters but the negative space between and around them. So the letter “d” not only signified a sound but looked like a lollypop. Consider the images entire sentences and paragraphs must have generated as she read each evening’s homework assignment.
Emma embarked on months of vision exercises to retrain the infohighway between her brain and her eyes. The scotopic light sensitivity that made rivers of white run through the printed page was corrected with a lavender sheet of cellophane that “make the letters quiet down.” As if my heart hadn’t broken enough, the day Emma asked if she could have used her purple sheet to chant Torah on her Bat Mitzvah, I realized the full impact of what she had labored under all those years. I thought back to that Shabbat morning when my little Leo stood on the bima and chanted her Torah portion flawlessly all the while the letters were dancing the hora on the parchment before her. “Don’t feel bad,” she said. “I might not have been as committed with the exercises at ten. At fifteen I was.” But it’s a mother’s reflex to feel responsible when something so simple to remedy and so complex to divine has escaped notice.
I use the above word “divine” on purpose. Because here’s where God’s infinite wisdom comes in. It has just taken me a few years to catch up. When Emma was finished with her exercises the therapist said to me, “You know, a lot of my kids end up being really artistic when they finish their vision training. I don’t know why but somehow getting their vision straight opens them up to a whole new world.”
Remember that “river of creativity” I always sensed was running deep within Emma’s soul? Bingo. Emma will be a senior in college next year. She is determined to earn her living in the creative world.
In the months, and now years, since that miraculous diagnosis, Emma’s river of creativity has been coursing with whitewater strength and abandon. And the biggest irony of all is that the visual maelstrom swirling around Emma all those confusing years is now the wellspring of her art. No longer confusing distractions of negative space, the letters are now art forms in their own right. They are Emma’s palette, all twenty-six of them ready to be mixed and remixed, juxtaposed, painted, carved and captured in whatever way strikes her artist’s eye. “I wouldn’t give up one day of my visual problems, Mom,” Emma said recently.
“If this is what has made me an artist then I am so happy I had them. I thank God for them.” The girl who hated school is set on earning her master’s. She never wants to stop learning.
I’m not seeing too well at the moment. Emma’s words still bring me to tears. God in His infinite wisdom uses any number of miracles to grace His creations.
Only now do I understand that sometimes those miracles are boulders simply waiting to be moved aside to set free the glory swirling hidden beneath.
© Debra Darvick 2008. Debra Darvick’s most recent work is This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy. The book may be ordered on amazon.com or by calling the publisher at 800.880.8642. To read personal reflections, musing on the writing life, excerpts from her novel and book reviews, check out Debra’s new blog at debradarvick.wordpress.com
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.