The Journey, Third Overlook: Choose

We have the power to choose.

The first chapter concludes with those six powerful words. De Vinck previously shared a story about being in the garden with his son, admiring a beetle when their impulsive neighbor crushed it. Later that evening, while putting his son to bed, the boy simply whispered, “I liked that beetle, Daddy.”

The beetle story was juxtaposed with an earlier wasp story. One that found a wasp, inside their home, bumping against a pane of glass. Instead of squashing the wasp, as I would have done, De Vinck placed a glass over the intruder, slid a piece of paper between it and the glass, then took it to the garden, and released it. David, Karen, and Michael, his three children, watched the entire procedure.

We have the power to choose.

Is this a story about the inherent dignity of a beetle? Is De Vinck making a political statement about the equal value of insect and human life? Is he promoting Gandhi’s passivity? I don’t think so. I believe it’s deeper still.

If you are a pro-life activist, those six words make you cringe. If you are on the other side of the debate, you celebrate. The seductive power of individualized context.

Truth be told, if the United States placed a universal prohibition on abortion, weighted with severe consequences, people would still have a choice to make. There would be different consequences to consider, but the choice is still on the table. It’s one of the intrinsic beauties of humanity. We have the power to choose.

Smoking cigarettes. Flossing. Eating fast food. Getting a divorce. Going to Disney World. Rolling through a stop sign. Buying Girl Scout Cookies. Just saying “No.” We are in an ever-present state of choice. Every decision is powerful. After all, any one could be our last.

When Oliver was born, his parents were given a choice. The doctor basically said, Do you believe Oliver’s a beetle or a wasp? I’m overwhelmed at times when I consider how often the answer is, Beetle. Did you know that when Down’s syndrome is detected in the womb, upwards of 90% of those children are killed?* I’m not making a moral statement on abortion, nor am I making a legal statement on abortion. It’s deeper still. I’m asking what makes a hopeful mother and eager father suddenly believe that their baby is that beetle?

In a word, Normal. In Our era, “normality” rules the day and woe be to the soul who drifts too far from center.

Jurgen Moltmann wrote a book titled Liberate Yourselves by Accepting One Another, and in it, he said,

“There is no difference between the healthy and those with disabilities. For every human life has it’s limitations, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses. We are born needy, and we die hopeless. It is only the ideals of health of a society of the strong which condemn a part of humanity to being ‘disabled.”

In his book, Vulnerable Communion, Thomas Reynolds writes,

“The difference between ability and disability is linked broadly to how a society views the difference between normality and abnormality, notions that shift according to changes in a society’s perception of bodily functioning and aesthetic appearance.”

In our religious culture, that bows to the idol of a thin, athletic, enhanced body with a high IQ and sharp wit, a pre-natal Down’s Syndrome diagnosis is abhorrent.  If culture didn’t say that Down’s Syndrome, Autism, or Cerebral Palsy were abnormal, we wouldn’t see 90% of those children as beetles. Remember, we aren’t that far removed from a society that decreed that dark hair was abnormal and punishable by death. We have the power to choose.

The stories of the wasp and beetle aren’t just stories about kids and bugs. They are stories about the role that the strong have in relation to the weak. Don’t believe for a minute, that a big kid who learns that life is nothing more than “Survival of the Fittest” doesn’t apply that idea when he steals someone’s lunch money.

I reject the I oppressive lie of normality. I believe that every life is valuable and every person vulnerable. This is the fundamental belief that fuels my daily decision making. When I look at my four sons I see four uniquely vulnerable, equally valuable boys who desire to be loved and known. I believe that one of my roles is to protect them in their vulnerability while teaching them to embrace it at the same time. Our culture says vulnerability is bad, but I say our culture is wrong. Furthermore, I say that declaring vulnerability off-limits is an ironic sign of it’s collective vulnerability.

We can look at a girl in a wheelchair and feel pity, or we can look at that girl and desire to know her. We have the power to choose.

We can meet a young man with Down’s Syndrome and patronize him, or we can see a valuable member of our society who has a voice. We have the power to choose.

Wasp or Beetle. Release or squash. Abort or give life. Diminish or Dignify. Ignore or Include. Ugly normal or beautiful diversity. We have the power to choose… the question is, “What do your perceived options say about what you believe to be true?”

* Caroline Mansfield, Suellen Hopfer, Theresa M. Marteau, “Termination rates after prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, spina bifida, anencephaly, and Turner and Klinefelter syndromes: a systematic literature review”, Prenatal Diagnosis Volume 19 Issue 9, Pages 808 – 812, have reported that Down syndrome abortion has remained relatively constant over around 20 years. Down syndrome abortion reaches around the 92% mark of all Down syndrome confirmed pregnancies. http://www.cdadc.com/ds/down-syndrome-abortion.html
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3 comments

  1. Ryan, This was an amazing post. Thank you so much for your candor. I used to think that before my son’s lawn mower accident, he was “normal” and that somehow that accident had changed who he was. But 11 months later, I see just how perfect he is, with his nubby left hand which is missing all 5 fingers and cosmetic damage to his face. His accident gave me so much perspective on just how amazing this boy is! Jacob’s injuries give him his story, the story God intended for him. And that makes him incredibly blessed.

    1. Kim, thanks for contributing and thanks for your kind words! Perfect is such a slippery idea. I know that you mean he’s your son and you would love him completely, regardless of his abilities or appearence. But, none of us are truly perfect. This is the essence of our shared vulnerability. Jacob has 5 fewer fingers than most, others have limited vision, some arthritic knees, some easily angered, and others impatient. We are all imperfect. It’s our response to our imperfections and the imperfections in others that is important.

      Some suffer an accident and become bitter, while others become better. Some take pride in their 10 fingers and 10 toes, while looking down on those with 19 or fewer. We must realize that we are all valuable, regardless of our uniqeness. We all have a voice and something to offer, regardless of how many fingers we have. Jacob will have to wrestle with the results of the accident one day, and he cannot let himself be defined by it. It’s neither an excuse for failure, nor a justification for narcissitic pity. He is simply a person with something to offer and a purpose to fulfill, just like you and just like me. Jacob is beautiful little boy and can do incredible things! His value is inherent in his being created in God’s image and none of us can take that from him. Thanks again for participating in the journey 🙂

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