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Prayer pings #20

Over the last few weeks I have been reading Portia Iverson's book Strange Son, in which she chronicles her work raising her autistic child Dov. Her work, in tandem with the medical investigation and research she does, provides fascinating and heartbreaking insights as to how the mind of an autistic person does - and doesn't - work. For example, you and I, when facing common situations which are populated by dozens of stimuli and numerous potential foci, have learned to distinguish between those elements which we should pay attention to, and those which we can ignore, enabling us to make sense of, and to navigate the circumstances we are in. To an autistic person, these common situations are often confusing and overwhelming. Their senses are inundated with data, and their minds cannot integrate or sort through the way-too-many inputs. The issue is not lack of intelligence, but inability to process.

The hope of course is that these kinds of observations will one day prove invaluable to the treatment of autism and the education of autistic individuals. In the meantime though, they can't but fill us with awe and wonder when we consider how our own minds work, every hour of every day. Instantaneously interpreting a jumble of sensory information, comparing and contrasting it with similar information we have taken in before, and preparing a response that is meaningful and deliberate. A "normally functioning" brain is one that is performing astounding feats with banal regularity.

Divrai Hayamim (Chronicles, Chapter 29) describes King David's final addresses to his people. David therein details his remarkable accomplishment in amassing huge quantities of raw materials - gold, copper, iron, silver - that his son Solomon would later use in building the Temple. And then he induces the leading men of the time to contribute thousands more talents of silver and gold to the project. And then, in joyous celebration of his climactic achievement, ויברך דוד , David blesses. David blesses ... God. "Yours God, are greatness, might, splendor, triumph, and majesty...Riches and honor are Yours to dispense."

Not just we scientific, technological, hyper-rational moderns, but all humans in all eras, have faced the question as to "what hath made this valor for me?" And we have tended to locate the answer within our own power, and in the strength of our own hand. We answer as if we had never peeked behind the curtain, never wondered how or why our minds or muscles work, by what means we retain memories, or formulate thought. Plan projects, or communicate even a single sentence.

Each morning, as we ready ourselves for the small and large triumphs that the new day will bring, we take a moment to locate our inner King David.

~Rav Yosef

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780