When I was young and my beard was russet, I was trained to work effectively with people with disabilities. Openness and respect for other persons are fundamental, but so are analytical skills; skills that have to be learnt. As we read on June 19th, Maria Montessori saw a child as wanting to help himself, to co-operate with his parents in growing up, and ‘When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help.’ I had to learn to be a parent, too.
There’s something of that determined resilience in all of us, very healthy too. Here is an occasion when the desire to help was channelled to success through disciplined reflection.
A blind man was walking with his long white stick outside the railway station as I went to buy a newspaper; he was still there, walking in the opposite direction, when I came out. He told the two of us who stopped to help that he wanted to ‘find his way into the station. No, don’t take me in. I’ll get there.’
But he accepted directions. With his back to the traffic he was facing the building but some distance from it. ‘Turn right, walk 4 yards, feel the gravel … find the paving stones with the raised bumps … straight ahead …’ Then something I’d not noticed before, the dull echo of our voices from the station building. Now he knew where he was, helped but not over-helped.
That dull echo might help me one day …
Let’s pray for the humility to ask for and accept help when we needed, and for the wisdom to know when not to overwhelm someone with our help. One blind acquaintance told about being helped across the road, ‘And now, please help me back across the road. I didn’t want to cross over at all!’
You may have noticed in these pages a degree of affection for young Abel and rejoicing in his growth in wisdom, and age, and grace; rejoicing as the parents of the Lord did, and no doubt his grandparents too. (Luke 2:52) It’s always good to remember that Jesus had to grow in all those ways.
Growing up did not happen by magic or instinct with Jesus, nor does it for any child. I was looking through old notes recently and found a teachers’ leader relaying what many of her members observed, that children were coming to school unable to use a knife and fork and these were by no means all living in poverty. Their parents were simply ‘not prepared to give time and energy doing that most difficult, but essential of jobs – raising children properly.’ (Mary Bousted, Report Magazine, May 2009 p11.)
As Maria Montessori reminded us, children want to grow up and want to co-operate with adults in the process. Feeding oneself is an important instance of this, so is helping grandad make that essential of modern living: flapjack, and again, so is sharing the result.
The shared table is the foundation for so much human goodness, it’s no wonder Jesus chose it as the foundation for sharing divine goodness in the Eucharist. To say that is not to deny that the Eucharist is a sacrifice: just re-read Dr Bousted’s remarks to see that the shared table is a place of sacrifice as well as of enjoyment.
Maria Montessori was one of the greatest Italians of modern times. Young Abel makes me think of this passage from The Child in The Family. Montessori tells how a baby wants to be at table with the family.
If we are at dinner and the child is in another room and he weeps because he is left out, we have withheld the respect we would have given to an adult. We ought to be pleased by his presence and keep him near us. Do not worry about food hurting him – ignoring him is an offence. p52.
We could also read this paragraph:
Those who do not care brutally shove the spoon into the child’s mouth – but observe and the child will try to help himself. One must simply sacrifice cleanliness to the justifiable impulse to act. The child will perfect the movements in time. When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help. p124-5.
Young Abel was so keen to help himself on the occasion of this photo that he had spoon in one hand, fork in the other, and also a special spoon for the helpful adult. (Al fresco dining meant pickings for Robin and Mrs Tittlemouse, eager to clear up Abel’s mess.)
So why does the Church refuse to give the Eucharist to baptised babies? What message does that give them; and the rest of us? Are we not withholding respect? Abel’s mother as a baby used to extend her hand when carried up to the altar, and when I was little, one parent would often stay with the little ones in the bench and await the other’s return before receiving the Sacrament themselves.
Beware of counter-signs; often they are so established that we never see them; disrespect of children runs deep in Church and Society.