The Boy Behind the Speech

The Boy Behind the Speech by Robynn

Connor has been chosen, by his peers, to give a ten minute speech at Manhattan High School’s commencement. The selection process was a little intimidating—or at least it would have been for me. Connor had to submit a written piece to the administration. He then had to deliver a two-minute speech to his classmates (all 400 of them) who then voted. And Connor’s was chosen.

Lowell and I are very proud.

And to be honest, Lowell and I are also a little nervous!

It’s remarkable to me how our Connor is all grown up. It’s unbelievable, really. How did that happen? Other people’s children grow up steadily, at an even pace of development. But not Connor–he’s exceptional that way I suppose–he just zipped up! Swoosh! I don’t know what miracle or scientific anomaly happened in our family but yesterday Connor was in grade six. He had his first job as a paper boy, saved up his money and bought a Wii. The day before that he was a seven year old resisting showers and personal hygiene of any kind. And just the week before that he was crawling around on his hands and knees on cement floors making this hilarious duck sound. Now, at age 18, with only 14 days of school left, he’s graduating from high school.

The only reason we’re nervous is because of other things we’ve heard come from this kid’s mouth.

 When he was nine years old and having a particularly bad day he mumbled this,      “Every kid has one childhood and you’re ruining mine.”

Personal hygiene was always a struggle for Connor when he was younger. He resented every shower, every scrub brush, every washcloth. Once when he was seven, I reminded him to take a shower and indicated which body parts he should remember to wash, his response was loud and impassioned, “Pits?! I have to wash my armpits?? I’ve never washed my pits in my whole life!” Another time, around that same season, I asked him if he had changed his underwear, to which he exploded, “Change my underwear?? Really? You’re killing me, Mom!”

Connor was always an articulate boy. He said what he felt and he said it with conviction. When he was eight years old he was fed up with the games his sisters played. He thought they were meaningless and lacked substance. In a heartfelt moment he confessed, “I’m so disappointed with God. I prayed for a baby brother or a dog that talks and he hasn’t given me either.” This was the same boy who wrote me a note when I went to the hospital to deliver his youngest sibling. The note read, “If the baby’s a boy I’ll have a lot of fun. If the baby’s a girl I’ll have another sister.”

We never knew what Connor might say and when. One time we had a group of pastors visiting mutual friends in North India. We offered to take them out to lunch on the Sunday they were in town. Midway through the meal, Connor leaned over with something significant to offer the conversation. He began with a question, “What’s a lesbian, Mom? He then turned to the pastors by way of explanation and said, “Late at night, after me and my sisters go to bed, my parents watch adult movies. That’s where I heard that word.” (For the record, ‘adult movies’ meant anything that was not Disney!) Lowell and I nearly choked. The three men with us burst out laughing!

This same young man when he was ten declared, “You are the worst mother in the whole world.” Not thirty minutes later he said, “You are the best mom in the world. I love you.”

These quotes and quips came from the boy. Connor is now a man. He is worthy of the trust his classmates have in him. He is a person of faith, he’s intelligent, well–spoken, and passionate. He has a great sense of humour. Politically engaged, civic-minded with a strong sense of justice, Connor has what it takes to leave his classmates with a little comedy, a little inspiration and a great challenge.

Never mind what you’ve said in the past, Connor —you’ve got this, Son!

The Holy Gift of Laughter

One of the holiest women I have ever known did little with her life in terms of worldly success; her gift was that of bringing laughter with her wherever she went, no matter how dark or how grievous the occasion. Wherever she went, holy laughter was present to heal and redeem”. ~Madeleine L’Engle

Tahrir Square 2.1.11 courtesy of Christina Rizk

In a post that I wrote last week, when the uprising in Egypt had not yet gained the momentum or attention on the world stage that it now has, I spoke about the indomitable spirit of the Egyptian people voiced in the phrase “Tomorrow, God Willing!” Along with this I am always amazed at the good-spirited humor and laughter present in my interactions with Egyptians. Whether they are correcting my Arabic, telling a story, or describing daily life there is a lightness and humor that is ever-present.  Perhaps this humor has been present since the Ancient Egyptians lived royal lives and left a legacy of mummies and tombs or perhaps it’s more recent. Regardless, it is a gift.

One doesn’t have to look far to find things to complain about in Egypt, which is one of the reasons we are seeing a revolt. Dust is thick in the air, masses of people and noise are ever-present, the infrastructure could never be called either efficient or organized, and the country has been in a type of recession for years – but in the midst of this there is a remarkable spirit. That is why this humor and ability to laugh is so remarkable and makes Egypt a country that gets under your skin so you want to go back, and back, and back…

Reports from the ground confirmed this good will and humor that had been present in the anti-government protesters until Wednesday.  With the infiltration of pro-government counter protests bringing with them a violence and a questionable authenticity that spirit was severely challenged.  Hundreds wounded and we don’t know how many dead. A frantic call for medical supplies and people to Tahrir Square went out over social networks and gave a picture of the desperation of the wounded.  Friends and family(daughter) on the ground continue to express the need for Egypt to get a‘long overdue, more accountable, more democratic, and more socially conscious’ government.

The ability to laugh at life and laugh at and with each other is both holy and a healer. The ability to talk about experiences whether shared or otherwise  is restorative.  Unni Wikan ,who I have mentioned in the past, penned these words over 10 years ago but as I read them it feels like she wrote them recently:

“For the people I know in Cairo, life implies suffering and problems to a degree we can hardly fathom.  And yet they do not have enough with their own.  With them there are practically no limits to people’s willingness and ability to engage with one another.  Is it because they are mentally more resourceful than we are? have more time than they do? or more compassion of their fellow beings? The answer lies elsewhere, I believe. What they do have that makes a real difference is a conviction, a tried and true belief, in the frailty and fallibility of human beings. Whereas in my society, we stick to the pretension that being perfect is possible…”

As I think about these protests and the future for Egypt I know it  will take all the resources and resilience available

Tahrir Square 2.1.11 courtesy of

to Egyptians to continue hope in these next days.  I am looking and longing for the day when Egyptians can once again express these gifts and experience the holy and healing power of humor, laughter, and talk.

Authors note: The book “Walking on Water: Reflections on faith and art” by Madeleine L’Engle is where I first heard laughter described as a gift. I have a couple of people in my life who have this gift – the first being my husband, he is quick to see the humorous side of a situation and challenges me on my tendency towards over analyzing. The second is my friend Marty,  making cakes and playing games with people in Cairo  simultaneously keeping track of a revolution in her back yard and tanks going down her street.  A posting on her Facebook page says that Day 1 she made ‘Revolution Cake’;Day 2, ‘Curfew Cake’ and so on bringing a lightness in the midst of chaos. The third – my sister-in-law Carol.  I’d go do flood relief in Pakistan anytime with her by my side!