The path to dependence
By MIKE DALEY
It usually begins with a distinct odor followed by several twitches of the nose. If my wife is in the room, well play the game of seeing who can hold out the longest. Eye contact is avoided. Without fail though someone eventually breaks down and announces the obvious: Whew, stinky diaper. As the rule in our house goes, Whoever smelled it, changes it.
I remember when we dreamed of a time when we would be freed from changing our daughters dirty diapers. It was all a part of an amazing progression -- rolling over, crawling, standing, walking, feeding herself, and the grand finale of baby graduation, using the toilet by herself. It couldnt come soon enough. Freedom for the parents at last. Now, with our son a little over a year old and midway through our second journey through diaper dependency, Im not so sure. I still think I have much to learn from this task most would rather avoid.
I became convinced of it when I stumbled across Tuesdays with Morrie, which had been tucked away long ago on one of our bookshelves. It tells the story of how Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom resumed their teacher-student relationship some 20 years after Albom had graduated from Brandeis University and left his professor behind. Through a chance late night encounter on Nightline, Albom rediscovered his mentor who was in the advanced stages of Lou Gehrigs disease (ALS). He began to visit him every Tuesday until his death.
As I leafed through the book, one particular exchange between the two grabbed my attention. In it Morrie relates how he was opening up to the gift of dependence:
Far from being a gift to be embraced, though, dependence seems to be a burden to rid oneself of as soon as possible. It really doesnt matter who is dependent -- us on others or others on us. The point is to avoid it. Cains rhetorical question becomes ours: Am I my brothers keeper? The answer more often than not is No. As misguided as it is, self-reliance becomes our way.
Yet, Jesus offers us a glimpse of the kingdom that calls us to reevaluate dependence, perhaps even to appreciate it. Naturally, from my perspective, children figure prominently:
Living in a society where they lacked any social standing, children were totally dependent on their parents. Little has changed today. We still desire to grow up as quickly as possible and stand on our own two feet. Contrary to our assumptions, if we wish to be great, we must take the path of descent rather than ascent. It is a path to powerlessness, to dependence. There is an old Yiddish saying that captures this well: People do not fall because they are weak, but because they themselves are strong.
Its time to change another diaper.
Michael J. Daley is a writer and teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati. Along with Bill Madges, he recently edited Vatican II: Forty Personal Stories (Twenty-Third Publications).
National Catholic Reporter, February 28, 2003