So perhaps it's natural that the bells should come to mind in relation to a cluster of posts last week, started by the incomparable Mama Mara, who posted a powerful reflection called Retarded Isn't Stupid, Mama Mara! Then came Cale over at Spectrum Siblings, who posted Retarded Isn't Stupid, Cale! And StatMama followed up with Developmental Disabilities, in which she pointed out that the word "retarded" quite literally means "slow".
And what's so bad about "slow"?
Slow is something we've actually been working very hard on with the bells. We've got a couple of pieces that that derive their beauty from a slow tempo -- like Gershwin's "Prelude No. 2" which Gershwin himself described as a "blues lullaby" but I think is actually a mighty seductive piece, not necessarily conducive to sleep! Another of the pieces, Brahms' Hungarian Dance #5, is chock full of tempo changes... and wouldn't you know, the big challenge is the slowing down (ritardando) in coordination!
Joy does not technically have a diagnosis of mental retardation, though in an earlier version of the DSM that would likely be the box that fit her best. (Diagnostic substitution. Powerful stuff when it comes to arguments about autism and "epidemic" language...) Right now we're calling it "developmental delays" or "cognitive issues" because we really don't know how to tease out what aspects of the delays are mediated by the autism, and what would be there if the autism weren't. Certainly her diagnosis of linear nevus sebaceous syndrome traditionally comes with a mental retardation component -- but not always. And we surely do have the sense that Joy isn't letting us in on everything that's going on in that mind of hers. In the words of her school district team leader: "Her file drawers are full! We just don't have the key to the cabinet."
But whatever word we use to describe Joy's trajectory so far... there's definitely a component of slow.
And why are people so down on "slow"?
I'd been plotting a post about the virtues of "slow" myself, and then I came across a wonderful column in this week's Mennonite Weekly Review, by Melodie Davis, called Slow is Good -- Very Good. It's gorgeous stuff, too good not to share. I'll intersperse her words with mine, OK?
Slow is a walk.
Slower still is a walk with a toddler.
Slow is a porch-swing and a long tall cool drink.
Slow is reading aloud.
Slow is a stew simmering all day in a crock pot.
Slow is incubating a baby for nine months.
Slow is hours of nursing, rocking, dozing with baby.
Slow is the food you started from seeds in the ground in the spring, weeded, watered, harvested, preserved, and didn't consume until the middle of winter.
Slow is melting into the arms of your spouse and just letting the moment linger, not worrying about what's next.
Slow is a delightful pace for what might come next as well.
Slow is focusing totally on the person talking to you during coffee hour at church and not thinking about the three other people you have to catch before they scurry away.
Slow is focusing totally on your child, giving yourself over to whatever activity they're playing, for as long as they care to keep it up.
Slow is meticulously hand-stitching every inch of heirloom wedding quilts for your grandchildren.
Slow is the sewing basket, and a pile of mending, and a classical CD on the stereo.
Scripture encourages us to be slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19). God is slow to anger (Neh. 9:17).
Prov. 14:27 advises that “a patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.”
Moses complained that he was too “slow of speech” to undertake the task of speaking to Pharaoh and being a leader for the Hebrew people (Ex. 4:10). Yet look how God was able to use Moses.