I have taught on the subject of advocacy for many years. It is a topic of great personal interest to me. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought I’d be advocating for my young adult son Christopher, who endured a traumatic brain injury very early this year.
My wife Mariko and I are very grateful when care givers encourage us about the nature and level of our advocacy for Christopher. We want to honor him with our lives and do whatever we can possibly do in support of him. How I wish I could articulate how much Christopher advocates for me, too, even in his minimally conscious state. This is no exaggeration.
Perhaps I can provide you with a glimpse of Christopher’s person. My niece Megan, who is a nurse, and who is incredibly empathic, observant, and intuitive, wrote this in a card she sent us a few months ago. Here she reflects on time invested with Christopher during two family get togethers, the most recent of them being the occasion of my elderly mother’s memorial last year:
“…I enjoyed spending time with Christopher when we were together in Elgin for Grandma’s services. He has such a quiet, kind, strong, and sweet nature to him. He also took our teasing and humor, as the only male cousin, in stride. I also remember when we were together around the time Grandpa was sick. Christopher sat by his side, quietly attentive to his needs—just as you are to Christopher’s now….”
It is Christopher’s quiet, kind, strong, and sweet nature that permeates his living space in the room he shares at the care facility. I gain a calmness of spirit as I breathe in his quiet nature, a gentleness of heart in his kindness, a fortitude of character in his strength, and a melodiousness of soul in his sweet disposition. It’s not difficult to advocate for someone like my son.
We advocate best with and for others when we cherish their human dignity and inherent value as persons. Advocacy at its best involves admiration. Our advocacy intensifies in depth and richness when we relish something of their character and story, and when we sense we are indebted to them in some way. If we look closely enough, we realize those we advocate with and for are not charity cases, the mere beneficiaries of our good will. We find our own voice in voicing their concerns.
I need Christopher. I advocate for this young man whom I admire. I love to sit by the side of my son, who sat by my dad’s side as a teenager and attended to Grandpa’s needs, who moved heaven and hell to make sure he was at Grandma’s memorial service to pay his respects last year, as well as to be with his extended family and to endure gentle, loving teasing from his cousins. Christopher has quite the sense of humor, so of course, he took all the teasing in stride.
Side by side, Christopher and I are together. As hard as every day is, we take it all in stride as part of the relentless grind. We advocate for one another, as we go.
I pray that all of us can encounter and experience such side-by-side solidarity with someone else in life. It’s a rare gift in a world all too often dominated by dismissing others as throwaways and cast asides if and when they are no longer considered useful. Those who think that way are themselves in danger of being used up. They need advocates, perhaps even the ones society no longer deems useful.
I have learned from Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen that we find Jesus in the midst of suffering. They have also taught us that companionship sustains us in caring for one another in the midst of suffering and can nurture relationships. Suffering can serve to foster community or destroy it. The way we view and treat one another says a lot about us. Are we paying attention to how we interact?
Sometimes it takes tragedies in life to help us pause, step back, and reflect upon what really counts. I have learned a great deal about human nature and myself since my son’s injury. Not all that I have learned is quieting and consoling, kind, strong, and sweet. So, advocating for Christopher is life-giving to me. Better than medicating my pain, the quality of my son’s person is a healing balm for my sick soul. How I admire my young man!
In closing, I wish to share how much I admire all those who have advocated for my son and our family. Along with my niece Megan, we have so many relational care givers from all walks of life. Thank you for going bedside with us in caring for Christopher in so many concrete and affective ways. May you experience unfathomable mercy and grace in relation to others to help you in your own time of urgent need.
For the series of reflections on Christopher and the family dating back to the beginning of this unfathomable journey on life support, refer here. Thank you!