Through a Lens Darkly
No Insurance Policy for Love
Wang must face his own powerlessness regarding his son's future, and Ocean Heaven reminds us that a future out of our control is especially fearsome for the parents of a special-needs child; it makes the Levys a bit more comprehensible to those of us who are horrified by their lawsuit. It also reminds us why we must never succumb to such frustration and fear, no matter how understandable it may be.
I have not been called to deal with the effect of chromosomal abnormality in my own immediate family, and so I hesitate to speak with any conviction on matters chock-full of powerful emotions and very real suffering. I have, however, been blessed by the extraordinary witness of several members of my extended family; a pair of my cousins have Down syndrome, and I have had the opportunity to observe them and their caregivers at numerous family reunions and get-togethers throughout the years. Each time, I have been amazed at the disproportionate impact these gentle souls have on those around them—a witness especially powerful when contrasted with society's increased willingness to throw away people deemed deficient, flawed or broken.
As I read George Will's witness to his son's meaningfulness or fret over the Levys' tangled justification for terminating their daughter's life in utero or watch the ailing Wang's realization of his son's irreplaceable value, I am struck by a single theme: we parents must stop fixating on the ways we can (or cannot) control every moment of our kids lives, start recognizing the ways in which they influence ours, instead, especially when they come with challenges. And they all come with challenges, for that matter.
There is a grave danger in seeing ourselves as the final arbiters of another's happiness, worrying that an obstacle they face may prevent them from living an "ordinary" life while failing to recognize the extraordinary gift their presence is to so many.
My cousins bring immeasurable joy and light to their parents, to their families, and to many others who cross their path. Countless autistic, trisomic, and mentally disabled people live meaningful, joyful lives; they remind us that happiness is not health-qualified; that the ability to be a vital, transformative member of human society is not something that is won (or lost) on the basis of our chromosomes.
These gentle souls often see the world with an otherworldly clarity, and pass its beauty on to the distracted and obsessive rest of us. Despite the undeniable trials and challenges that face those who care for them, these "throw-away-people" are uniquely suited to bringing out the best in humanity.
Truly, they are blessings in disguise; we forget that we are never as in control as we want to think we are. The One who is responsible for the building and the shaping of their bodies is never cheated. He does not deal in "defective parts," but in parts that we able-bodied members are too small-minded, near-sighted to recognize for their true worth.
There are no defective humans—at least not in ways that truly matter. There are only those that we deem defective. And may God forgive us for that.
(Ocean Heaven is available through Netflix's Watch Instant service.)
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.