Lisa Gelber
Living Life One Breath at a Time

Seeing Thunder: The Revelation of ADHD

As we enter the 48th week of our corona-time lock down, I’m thinking about the many satirical videos I’ve watched throughout this extended period designed to lift up and poke fun at the way we make it through each day. Of all the YouTube videos that highlight the messiness of these times, the one that stands out the most for me in this Jewish Disability, Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) is the Holderness Family’s Under the Sea Parody on ADHD. It is funny and spot on. Many of those who struggle with ADHD will see themselves within this video and we should too.

While the brain-based disorder has a variety of expressions and symptoms, people with ADHD may be blessed with both a deep sense of creative spirit and a propensity to hyper-focus. In our home, that means anything and everything can have dual (or more) purpose and it can be hard to detach from a project even when it’s time (really time – or past time!) to do something else. Having a conversation? Someone with ADHD can legitimately participate and within five minutes have no memory of something they said. As the parent of a pre-teen with ADHD, I live in a constant spiritual practice of t’shuvah, returning to my core self, directing my attention and intention to the deepest place within that honors compassion, empathy and the different ways in which people live and learn. I wish I could say it was easy. I wish I were so practiced and intentional that at every choice point and crossroads I remembered and turned towards productive interaction and support.

It is, and I am a work in process, descending the spiral stairs of realignment. When I find myself astonished that my child does something in a way that is foreign to me, I imagine myself adrift on the water, surrendering into the current, trusting that I will discover something unexpected so long as I allow myself to feel without fighting to return to what is expected. After all, when my child comes to a fork in the road, she takes the one less traveled, ala Robert Frost. That is, until the world and the people in it wave and yell and throw up their hands in exasperation.

What my energetic, creative, self-reflective, fully feeling, voraciously curious child has been teaching me for years is that expecting an ADHD brain to work the way a non ADHD brain works is like yelling at someone who does not understand, as though they are hard of hearing. You’ve seen this before or found yourself speaking louder and louder and louder as though the volume is what prevents the other person from internalizing and actualizing what you are saying. The perception of yelling would send anyone into themselves, especially someone with ADHD who already feels marginalized. As Penn Holderness sings, It’s not a deficiency that’s wrong, ADHD helped me write this song. If we’ve learned anything in these corona-times, it is the importance of agility and adaptability, both in how we live in the world and in how we see one another.

In parashat Yitro, B’nai Israel experience revelation. It is a crazy and chaotic time where v’chol ha’am roeem et hakolot v’et halapeedeem/all the people saw the thunder and lightning (Exodus 20:15). The Sages comment that in this miraculous time, the people experienced something unheard of otherwise; their senses expanded beyond the usual. The moment of revelation offers a clarity within the chaos that exposes a divine capacity to see the unseen. Tradition teaches that we were all at Sinai, those who escaped the narrowness of Egypt then and now. Somehow, with all the voices swirling and the shofar blaring everyone heard a holy voice that honored self and other, and reminded us of our unique riches. As the midrash P’sikta de Rav Kahana teaches, The voice of Gd is in the uniqueness of each and every person. The Holy One said, ‘Do not be confused because you hear many voices. Know that I am One and the same.’

Rabbi Marcia Prager quotes the Seer of Lublin, When you pray about t’shuvah, express your hopes! Come into a state of t’shuvah in joy and expansiveness of spirit! Not from sadness, stress and feelings of impoverishment. This continues to be my practice as a parent, engaged in an ongoing process of revelation. In a world that reflexively pushes my child to the side, I am reminded that I am part of a people that celebrates the One, the holy that lives within, the spark that bounces from place to place in holy inconvenience. This month, this week, this moment, I celebrate that spark and the diversity of humanity whose fire is just waiting to be ignited. Let us all have the courage to risk, walk and celebrate those who take the road less traveled, because that will make all the difference, for all of us.

About the Author
Lisa Gelber is rabbi, fierce mother, marathon runner, spiritual director, breast cancer survivor and PELOTON enthusiast. She serves Congregation Habonim in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of NYC. Her journey to parenthood is profiled in the Emmy nominated documentary ALL OF THE ABOVE: Single, Clergy, Mother.
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