Last week, I had both a literal and a figurative seat at a table where years ago I never would have been offered a chair. I was invited to attend a meeting at the Ministry of Health about standards of care for eating disorder treatment.
Whereas once upon a time (and still now and then) mothers were considered as pariahs among eating disorder professionals—or even worse, as the people who caused their child to develop an eating disorder—last week, I was accepted into the inner fold of Israeli professionals who treat eating disorders. Suffice it to say that this was a tough group to infiltrate, and the credit for getting a foot in the door does not belong to me. This wasn’t the first time that I was given a seat at the table, but it was the first time that I was asked to voice my views and my concerns regarding the current system from a parent’s perspective. This was an epic moment for me, indicating that the winds of change are beginning to blow.
While sitting at that conference table at the Ministry of Health, I was thinking that Martin Luther King would be proud of me. Admittedly, this was a bizarre thought on many levels. Culturally, I am worlds apart from Dr. King, and civil rights is worlds apart from eating disorder advocacy. But at that moment, I felt a strong kinship with the man who had a dream.
To me, Martin Luther King personifies the spirit of activism, the spirit of humanitarianism, the spirit of change, and the spirit of hope. In addition, the concept of a significant and meaningful life cut short by hatred and violence is something that I can relate to viscerally, especially the day after Dafna Meir, a beautiful soul by all accounts, was brutally murdered in her own home here in Israel by a savage terrorist.
I never realized how much I was influenced by Martin Luther King until I was sitting in that meeting last week and he popped into my head quite spontaneously and unexpectedly, which led me to start thinking about the legacy of his spirit and activism as a concept.
I am the last person who I ever would have pegged for an activist of any kind. First of all, activism requires a tremendous amount of energy, and I am fundamentally lazy. Second of all, activism requires an outgoing personality, and I am fundamentally introverted. Third of all, activism requires hope that society can do better, and I am fundamentally pessimistic. And lastly, activism generally requires a level of intellect that I’m not sure I have.
And yet, over the past few years, here is what I have learned about myself: I am more motivated than lazy, blogging is a fabulous platform for introverts, when the occasion calls for it I can push myself beyond my social limits, I am actually a hopeful person by nature (that one really caught me by surprise!), and I have emotional intelligence that compensates for whatever I may lack in the intellect department. Sometimes, you have to just jump into the water if you want to see if you can swim. While this is definitely not advisable under other circumstances, it worked just fine for me in this case.
I can’t really say at what point I transformed from the mother of a daughter with an eating disorder to an eating disorder advocate and activist, it just sort of happened. Undoubtedly, part of it was definitely anger at the outdated treatment and attitudes that made my daughter even sicker, and anger over the way that we were mistreated as parents. I don’t ever want any parent to have to suffer the way that we did and I don’t want anyone’s child to receive sub-standard treatment; which thankfully is far from the norm, but it still does exist.
That being said, I never set out with ambitions to be an activist of any kind. Had I thought too much about it, I never would have ventured onto this path of eating disorder advocacy, which has taken me so far out of my comfort zone that I don’t even know where my comfort zone is anymore. It has pushed me way beyond what I thought were my limits, to the point where I realize that the only limits that I have are those in my head.
I always wonder about how much good one person can do, but then I look at Martin Luther King’s life and I realize that one person’s vision, words, and dreams can change the entire world. He overcame obstacles that seemed positively insurmountable, and he did so through an inordinate amount of hard work and an equally inordinate amount of hope. He refused to accept the status quo and was absolutely convinced that we can do better.
The strongest lesson that I carry from Martin Luther King is that it is incumbent upon each and every one of us in some way to try and leave this world a better place than we found it. That’s one hell of a tall order, but I’ll try.