Anahí turned six today. This feels like a huge deal because she has been talking about her birthday every day since the day after Christmas — seriously. She was so excited for the big day to finally be here. In all honesty, it was a pretty low-key birthday. She did her Brain Balance exercises in the morning, and she went to Brain Balance for another session in the afternoon. This evening we had the neighbors over for gluten-free cake and a little Family Home Evening.
So today I’ve been thinking about Anahí, and about love. I remember when I was a student at BYU in one of Greg Stalling’s awesome literature classes, and we were watching a documentary about the famous French philosopher Jacques Derrida. I’m guessing this name doesn’t mean a lot to many of you, but in the world of literature, he’s a pretty big deal. He is a rockstar in the philosophy world, with groupies that follow him around and ask him just to talk about random stuff so they can bask in his brilliance.
If you thought the Superman/Batman analogy in the last post was geeky, buckle up.
In this documentary Derrida is talking about love. At first the lady asks him to talk about love in general, and he says “I can’t talk about love in general just like that on the spot.” Then, of course, he does just that.
So Derrida says that we either love the who or the what. We either love the person (the “absolute singularity of who they are”, or we love things about the person. I’m not the hugest fan of Derrida, but in this case he is actually making a lot of sense.
There is a lot about Anahí to love.
There is a long-standing Mack tradition in which the family gathers at the end of the day on someone’s birthday and each member of the family tells something they love about that person.
Tonight we did it, and these are some of the things we talked about:
Kimball mentioned that he loves that Anahí is doing less potty talk since she started Brain Balance.
Betty talked about how much she loves Anahí’s hugs and kisses and especially when Anahí says “Mom, you are the best mom in the whole world!”
Anahí’s friend Roxy said “I love her with all my heart.”
Our neighbor Aimee said how Anahí is a good example for her children when she comes to the house to play, and her husband Robbie said the he likes that Anahí likes to play with him.
As for me, I would just mention two of the many things that I love about Anahí.
First of all, Anahí is sweet. When Betty first told me that she thought Anahí might have autism, I flat-out rejected the idea because I had in my mind the totally erroneous idea that people with autism were incapable of expressing love. I have always felt loads of love from Anahí. She has a unique sweetness about her that I love. The more I learn about how Anahí’s brain may be working, and the challenges she faces every day, I love her more.
Secondly (and I have just recognized this over the past few months), Anahí is an extremely hard worker. Brain Balance is tough. Everything about it is tough. The diet, the exercises, the lack of screen time. We are doing everything we can to make Anahí’s life uncomfortable because we are trying to stimulate the parts of her brain she would rather not stimulate because they are weak. And she practically never complains! Some days the exercises are harder, and she has a hard time concentrating, but she sticks with it. Three months ago she couldn’t get her head off the ground when lying on her back. This morning she did twenty full situps.
But the things I love about Anahí are only a small part of the story. In Derrida’s terms, you could say that I love “the absolute singularity” of Anahí. I love her because she is Anahí. She is my daughter. With Anahí there might be days like today when I tuck her in and she reaches up and melts my heart with a warm kiss. But there are also days when the autism is raging and the lights in her eyes are turned off, and she is not a particularly hard worker and she is not particularly sweet. On those days, I can’t rely on the love I have for things that she does or characteristics that she has. In the dark times, I have to trust that God’s grace will allow me to love Anahí because she is Anahí. It is the WHO, not the WHAT, that pulls me through in the end.