Far From the Tree

Fresh Air, a regular feature program over KQED Public Radio, today broadcasted a most informative and totally engaging interview with researcher and author Andrew Solomon regarding his new book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.  The program episode was titled “When Kids Fall ‘Far From the Tree’.” Solomon’s book is about families with children who are profoundly different or likely to be stigmatized.

Book cover image of Andrew Solomon's book "Far From the Tree:".In the interview, he talks about the research he conducted with parents who had children with Down syndrome, deafness, autism, dwarfism, or who are prodigies, become criminals, or are conceived in rape.  He looks at both sides of an issue, interviewing and studying parents — mothers specially — who opted to abort pregnancies and those who chose to bring their pregnancies to full term despite the circumstances and the seeming odds against them.

Most touching segments of the interview deal with cases involving women who conceived (as well as the children who were conceived) as the result of a rape, parents of Down syndrome children, and parents of children who became criminals, notable the case of the Columbine High School massacre killers.

Here are some excerpts from the interview to arouse your curiosity.

    On what it’s like for mothers who have children conceived in rape

    “All of the women were concerned about the ways in which their child might resemble the rapist psychologically. If the biological father of this child was capable of something so awful, is this child going to turn out to be capable of awful things? So that was one fear. And then next to it — and not entirely separable from it but also not entirely the same thing — the child was a constant reminder of the rape. As one of the women said to me, ‘I have a friend who was raped and a few years later she was really able to get into a useful denial and say it never happened. I will never be able to say it never happened. I will always have that pair of eyes looking at me, that are evidence that yes, it did happen.'”

    On what it’s like for children to learn they were conceived in rape

    “There’s a central problem always for a woman who decides to keep a child conceived in rape, which is at what point do I actually tell my child where the child came from? So people who adopt children are usually now advised to tell the children from the very beginning of childhood, ‘You are adopted, but you were adopted because we so much wanted a child and we are so lucky to have you,’ and it’s a part of their narrative. But rape is too disturbing and violent and the sexuality involved — it is too complicated to explain to a 2-year-old. …

    “I’ve met children who have been conceived in rape and who said that actually finding out had been a great relief — that it explained to them why their mother had had a child under odd or unusual circumstances. It explained why they sensed some ambivalence in a mother whom they had tried to please. … But there were others who were so horrified by that news and felt so polluted by it that they acted out in various very destructive ways. … They felt that other people would think, ‘This person is a child of rape; this person is like a rapist; this person is untrustworthy; this person comes from dirt and darkness.’ ”

    On how Karen Robards, whose son has Down syndrome, learned to cope

    “What I found is that again, that time of diagnosis and the time of birth is often very difficult and upsetting for people. Kids with Down syndrome are, by and large, quite affectionate and relatively guileless and frequently, the attachments to them grow and deepen. And the meaning that parents find in it grows and deepens. So the story that epitomizes it perhaps was of Tom and Karen Robards, who were a couple I met in New York who had gotten involved in changing the way education services are delivered to people with Down syndrome. They set up something called the Cooke Center and they did really noble and heroic work in that arena and their son is now 30.

    “And I said, ‘Look you’ve given your lives to this.’ I said, ‘Do wish you wish you’d never heard of Down syndrome? Do you wish you could make it go away?’ And his mother said, ‘You know for our son, David, I wish I could make it go away because for David, it’s a difficult way to be in the world. And I would do anything to make David’s life easier.’ She said, ‘But speaking for myself, while I would never have believed 30 years ago that I would get to such a point, speaking for myself it’s made me think so much more deeply and appreciate humanity so much more broadly and live so much more richly. That speaking for myself, I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.’

    “And while she articulated that idea with particular eloquence I found it was not an infrequent refrain — that most parents had become very attached to their children. And at some level I kept thinking, ‘But surely you’d rather have children without Down syndrome?’ And then I thought people become attached to their children with whatever their flaws are. I’m attached to my children with whatever flaws they have and if some glorious angel broke through the living room ceiling and offered to exchange them for other better children, I’d cling to my kids and pray away this specter.”

    On starting his own family and writing this book

    “People said to me, ‘But you are doing this book about all of these terrible things that have gone wrong for all of these families and surely doing that would have made you draw back from the project of having your own family?’ And I said, ‘But on the contrary, I felt that what the book was about is the fact that parents can love almost anyone who is presented to them as their child and that love has a compelling urgency to it that rises above any difficulty and I thought whoever my children turn out to be, I think I’ll be able to love them.’

    “And I felt that partly because of what I’d seen in these other families and partly also because I had been somewhat unforgiving of my family of being a little slow — not very slow, but a little slow — to accept the fact that I was gay. And when I started looking at all these families, I thought, ‘loving someone and accepting someone are two different things. … My parents always loved me, it just took them a little while to accept me and then they got there.’ And actually, all of these parents had to struggle to accept their children and then they got there. And I began to think all parents at some level have to struggle to accept their children at some level. Their children are always full of surprises.”

The interview was thoroughly engaging, touching, and POWERFUL!  My ears were glued to the radio throughout the program, and I listened to its repeat broadcast later in the day. Do not miss this interview.

I invite and encourage you to listen to the complete episode of the Fresh Air program at http://www.npr.org/2012/11/12/164958401/parenting-a-child-whos-fallen-far-from-the-tree?ft=1&f=13.  You can also read the full transcript of the program online.

Here is also a TED Talk made by

About Marc of Contemplative Pathways

Marc teaches contemplative meditation in the context of "contemporary mysticism" under the style of "Contemplative Pathways." His spiritual work is backed by a profound understanding of mystical teachings and the mystical life, that is rooted in fifty (50) years of personal study, practice and spiritual unfoldment (inner realization and spiritual experience).  In the course of his spiritual journey, he has received the gifts of mystical discernment and spiritual transmission. Marc has been conducting classes and meetings on contemporary mysticism and meditation at the San Francisco Bay Area for over fifteen years, usually in a classroom, lecture, seminar, workshop, online meeting, or group practice setting. He has facilitated study groups and workshops for centering/contemplative meditation practice meetings since the 1980s. Marc's teaching work meaningfully shifts consciousness in students through the process of spiritual transmission and mystical transformation.  He enables others to embark on the spiritual journey by understanding the Truth teaching and by living its principles in their daily lives. His methodology of instruction is divinely inspired and firmly rooted in pure, authentic mysticism.  Marc's approach to the subject of contemporary mysticism is essentially nondenominational, nonsectarian, culturally interfaith, transreligious, definitively unitive, and unequivocally nondualistic. Within the context of the great shift in consciousness presently occurring all over the planet, Marc’s work focuses on individual and collective spiritual instruction and transformation. He promotes the practice of contemplation or meditation as the vehicle for spiritual transcendence and ascension to the higher dimensions of mystical consciousness. His other contributions to worldwide spiritual awakening and the global contemplative movement include spiritual mentoring, spiritual direction, and spiritual healing work. Marc is firmly committed to the vision of a global spiritual awakening and the divine promise of humanity’s mystical illumination. His brand of mysticism is the only true contemporary mysticism born of 21st century illumination and spirituality.  
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1 Response to Far From the Tree

  1. A Facebook blogger, Anna Romano, posted the following comments on Facebook in connection with the post above:

      good to bring this to light, Marc … you have an insightful gift to bring up issues from “this world” that they may be faced and seen through … removing a sense of separation between “this world” and “God’s Kingdom” … xoxo

    I replied to her as follows:

      If you listen to the entire interview, the feedbacks of people from the case studies are very, very touching, especially the ones related to the Columbine High School massacre. Here is one excerpt which made me feel empathy and tear up for the parents of Dylan, one of the killers. Note Dylan’s mother’s remark.

      – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      GROSS: Did the Klebolds have any idea how troubled their son was and what he was capable of?

      SOLOMON: You know, it took a long time for me to persuade them that we could talk about all of this. And then, when they finally agreed to it, they were so full of their story, it overflowed in them. And at the end of the first long weekend that I spent recording – I think more than 20 hours of interviews over a weekend – we were sitting, all of us very exhausted around the kitchen table, and I said: If Dylan were here now, is there anything you’d want to ask him or tell him, or do you have a question for him?

      And his father said I sure would. I’d ask him what the hell he thought he was doing. And his mother, Sue, sort of looked down at the floor, and she thought. And then she said: “I would ask him to forgive me for being his mother and never knowing what was going on inside his head.

      I think she had no idea. I think now that I’ve got to know both parents well, if they had had any idea, they would have done something. They would’ve fixed it. They would’ve intervened. I think people can keep their character very secret, and having had the experience with Tom and Sue, I look even at my own children and think: I think I know them well, but I have to always remember that you never necessarily do. But I’m sure, 100 percent sure that his parents had no idea he was planning such a thing. They just, if they had any idea, that they would’ve tried to stop it. That’s who they are.

      – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      The BOTTOM LINE in all the case studies of Andrew Solomon is this —
      At the end of the day, we are all human beings in our humanhood.  There are tragedies, suffering, and pain in our human lives, but we must not let those things define us or our lives.  We need to see ourselves through the appearances and illusions of our humanhood, and beyond — to the reality of the one Self and Being.  It is toward this sublime effort that we were given proper tools to help us, tools such as forgiveness, hope, acceptance, understanding, transcendence, and the most potent transformative tool of all — LOVE.


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