Bat Mitzvah Benediction for Sarah Cartan

by her father, John Cartan
May 19, 2012

Hi. I'm Sarah's dad. This is the part of the ceremony where I say how proud I am of her.

First of all, I'd like to say thanks to all of you. Everyone here helped Sarah to get where she is today. It really does take a village.

Each of you sees a different facet of Sarah, including many facets I never get to see. But as her parents, Betsy and I have a unique perspective on how far Sarah has come.

When she was 18 months old, Sarah began losing her words, one at a time, until they were all gone. Betsy fought like a tiger to get Sarah the help she was entitled to and slowly, day by day, Sarah fought her way back.

30 hours a week of behavioral training - afternoons, nights, and weekends. Ten years of speech therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy - every week. Sarah not only had to painfully learn all the things that come naturally to other children, she also had to catch up with them, and keep up with them. That she has done this, with distinction, and continues to do it day after day, makes me very proud.

Sarah, I'm proud of the mural you painted on your bedroom window. I'm proud of the silly drawing you made of me in heart-strewn boxers. I'm proud of your performances at the Starry Plough in Berkeley - and that they keep begging you to come back. I'm proud that you donated your Christmas money to Jane Goodall and your birthday money to a local animal shelter.

I'm proud of you for standing up in front of your fourth grade class and telling them all you have Autism, and then patiently and eloquently answering their questions. And then coming back the next year to Ruth's class to talk about Autism again.

I'm proud of the way you fight for justice. I'm proud of the way you cheer for your classmates whenever they score a goal or make a point. I'm proud of the way you are with animals, getting that troubled dog to accept his first belly rub when no one else could calm him. I wish my father could be here to see the way you speed read just like he did.

I'm also proud of you for being a Pokemon master. I think that, deep down, all things are connected and so it doesn't really matter where you choose to dig for meaning. It's how deeply - and how joyfully - you dig that matters. Becoming a true master of anything is a real achievement.

The last thing I'm going to mention is something you did just a few days ago: that Shakespearean sonnet you wrote for your History class. After stressing out about it for days, you finally sat down and wrote the whole thing in ten minutes flat - in pen with hardly a word crossed out. Three quatrains and a couplet, 140 syllables on the nose, well-organized structure, correct rhyme scheme (you even found a rhyme for Darwin!), and a coherent, heartfelt message.

It might seem a little thing to you, a thing you didn't even want to do, but it's an honest poem. It says a lot about the person you've become and what you care about and what you have to say to the world. For a girl who once lost all her words, I think it's kind of amazing. So here it is:

A Sonnet on Cats by Sarah Cartan

One of the most treasured things in my life
Is the existence of cats like Darwin.
His gentle nature does not give me strife,
His paws and eyes are ever so darlin'.

Just as wonderful is his brother, Finch.
Out of all cats, he is the most polite.
His gorgeous coat measures many an inch,
Tis white as the snow and black as the night.

Then there are those who do not have a home.
Each one has a life that is filled with grief.
All cast out and doomed, forever to roam,
Such is the story of a stray named Leaf.

But whether they're black, white, orange, or gray,
I cherish them all, whether tame, wild, or stray.