Survival of the Strongest

Many years ago, Chuck Gardner, my favorite Methodist minister, managed to weave some secular history into one of his sermons.  While I don’t remember the sermon itself, nor the context, the piece of history stayed with me.

According to Chuck, in the un-enlightened Middle Ages, parents didn’t really feed their children until they were about 5 years old.  The little ones got table scraps, the left-overs no one else wanted, they searched under the table (if there was one) for stuff that might have fallen down, much like some people’s dogs nowadays.    Appalling, isn’t it.  I remember him saying with a chuckle, “The SRS would have had a field day …” (SRS being the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.)

How could parents be so – mean? so uneducated?  Didn’t they know that children need good food in order to grow into healthy adults?  Of course they didn’t know that.  To them, a young child was a burden, something that wasn’t useful until old enough to help in the field, the kitchen, etc.  Something that more often than not might die before being old enough to be useful.  So, according to their thinking, why would you waste precious food on something you weren’t sure would live to be of use?

To our thinking, this is as irrational as it gets:  not feeding a young child good food because he/she might die …  One can only imagine the number of children who died – because they were malnourished!  And the number of children whose bodies, due to lack of nutritious and plentiful food, were too weak to fight off diseases or stand cold weather or recover from accidents.  Which, I suppose, only served to reinforce their parents’ attitude, “See, Mother, I told you he was too weak to make it!  Glad we didn’t waste good food on him.”

One could argue that only the strongest survived.  But even those strongest, I would like to argue, would have been even stronger had they been given a good start by being fed nutritious meals.  

We still have a bit of this attitude today when we claim “that which doesn’t kill you makes you strong”.  I beg to differ.  Take my mother who grew up during WWII.  While she was lucky enough to be evacuated, along with her younger sister and her mother, to a small village north of Frankfurt, south of a big forest which obstructed the view of the village to incoming (from the North) British bombers, thus in no immediate danger, the food that was available to them was inferior.  This inferior food didn’t kill her, but it didn’t exactly make her strong either.  There are many causes for brittle bones, but I blame hers on the lack of good food during a time when her body would have needed it to build strong bones and muscles.

Of course, good food and generally good care do not guarantee that a child grows up to be a healthy adult.  There are diseases, accidents.  Nor does a lack of good food necessarily mean that a child’s health is forever doomed.  There are no guarantees.  But we know that our chances of living a healthy life improve greatly if we set a good tone from the beginning.

And yet, when it comes to piano lessons, so many parents descend right back into the Middle Ages; it’s frightening.  They don’t want to invest in a good instrument or a good teacher because they are not sure that their child will stick with lessons.  Their argument:  let’s wait and see if the child is “interested” or “shows promise”.  How is this different from those parents a couple hundred years ago who waited until their children showed that they were strong enough to survive before they were fed the good stuff?  Yes, again, the strongest will probably survive.  But even those strongest would be stronger if they had had a good foundation via a good instrument and/or teacher. 

And what about those who are perhaps slow to show interest or whose talent lies dormant for a while – even with a good instrument and teacher?  What about those who need a bit of extra tender loving coddling care to bring out their talents?  They will certainly be turned off by an inferior instrument, perhaps being told that they lack talent. 

I have had several students over the years who initially showed no apparent promise and then suddenly burst into bloom.  I have also had students who showed “promise” initially but then lacked the desire to build on it.

I would propose that all children deserve good food, caring parents, good instruments and good teachers. 

From the beginning.