My father had a full Catholic mass for his funeral, and my sister sang “Ave Maria.” Before the service, she sat in the empty church waiting for the organist to arrive so that they could do a quick run-through of the piece.
The priest came in. “What are you doing here?” he asked her, wanting to make sure she was in the right place.
She explained that she was waiting to rehearse her song for the funeral. The priest nodded knowingly.
“A lot of families have someone who thinks they can sing,” he said, a little condescending. My sister graciously kept her peace and the priest left to take care of other matters.
My sister has a degree in vocal performance and sings with an elite chorus with competitive auditions, directed by a world-renowned choral director. She is the equivalent of a professional singer, without actually being paid.
She knows how to sing, but the priest didn’t know that.
Putting aside that a) family singers are sharing in their events, sharing a gift with their loved ones that doesn’t need a quality assessment; and b) there was no need for him to comment to my sister on the quality of past or future performances he’d seen, what I was struck by was the assumption the priest made.
Probably after officiating many funerals, weddings and other events he had seen enough family singers to see a pattern, and made an assumption based on those previous experiences.
Except this time he was wrong.
It reminded me of when the Navigator’s father and I were new parents, trying to teach the Navigator discipline and social skills.
Some of the parenting resources we consulted assumed that a power struggle was the source of difficult behavior.
After the Navigator’s autism diagnosis we realized that there were rarely true power struggles with our son and almost all of the difficult behaviors we experienced stemmed from some other reason – sensory overload, perseverative thinking, anxiety, etc.
Assumptions based on patterns are human nature. We rely on them to help us recognize and respond to new situations similar to previous ones we’ve experienced. They guide us and can be very helpful.
The problem comes in when we don’t analyze whether our assumptions are actually necessary to the current situation, or if our assumptions have the potential to do harm and damage to people.
Or if we don’t consider the fact that our assumptions could be wrong.
As parents we work to understand our child’s emotional state and motivations, frequently when he doesn’t know himself. Even as he grows and gains developmental maturity, we still sometimes have to attempt to fill in the gaps.
When we do, we try not to assume that he is engaging in a power struggle with us, but instead that he is trying to, and wants to, do his best.
We make that our first assumption.
My sister’s singing of “Ave Maria” was stunningly beautiful. It was a perfect, transcendent gift, and even the heavens stopped to listen.
Also published on Medium.