Monday, January 24, 2011

Twenty-one years of wisdom

     January seventeenth marked the twenty-first anniversary of the day my world changed forever. It was the day I proudly produced a combined total of five pounds of bluish-colored, wrinkled, practically transparent flesh. This came in the form of two very determined, albeit  three months premature, infants--one girl, one boy-- children so anxious to begin their struggle through this process called life that they chose to leave early the relatively safe environs of their mother's womb. And on that day, I realized I knew nothing.
    After an extended stay in the NICU, these now-pinkish, much smoother, and somewhat healthier two souls were released from their second relatively safe environ into my uncertain and quite shaky hands. They came with no instructions and were not even quite fully assembled. The nurses stuffed heart monitors and wires and battery packs and special formula into the back seat of our car, buckled the now 4.4 pound infants into their carseats, and shoved us quickly out of the parking lot.
      I was now expected to oversee their breathing and heart rates, their growth charts, their innoculation schedules, their daily medications, their feeding routines, their first playdates, their education, their health insurance, their bouts of chicken pox and flu and strep throat, their allergies and braces and broken bones, their acquisition of driver's licenses and first dates and beach trips and senior proms and Friday night football games and college acceptance letters  and safe passage into adulthood.  And on that day, I realized I knew nothing.
    The next twenty-one years, I searched for answers to questions I will never understand. As we came to discover that our daughter was going to have a life-long disability, I realized there were going to be a lot of blank spaces in the answer lines on my life exam.  I struggled with some basic philosophical questions: why do innocent children suffer? why is there pain in the world?  why are people cruel to each other? why does evil exist?
      Flash forward twenty-one years, and I am now sitting in a college philosophy class with my daughter, thinking that this is rather ironic that I am now watching her struggle to answer the same questions to which I have found few answers. Yet, when the professor prompted them to write an essay on whether they would choose a life of blissful ignorance or a life of facing the harsh realites of truth, I was intrigued to discover that my daughter would choose the less travelled road, the more difficult path, the rocky road of truth. 
     "Honey," I challenged her, "why would you want to go through life struggling and suffering, when you could just waltz through happy and blissfully ignorant?"  I knew there had been many times when I longed for blissful ignorance, when I wished I hadn't overheard the cruel remarks or seen the unkind stares directed at my daughter, when I wished I didn't know about the parties or trips or dances or gatherings to which she had been omitted, when I didn't have to face the reality of her life as a continual struggle to survive in a world where appearances meant everything and character meant less and less.   Blissful ignorance seemed like a soft place to fall, a welcome rest, a peaceful world.
       She shook her head in frustration that I didn't seem to "get-it."
      "It would have no meaning," she argued with me. "Why would anyone want to live a life that was just an illusion? If there is no truth, there is no reality and there is no meaning. You couldn't believe in anything if you weren't committed to the truth." And at that moment, I realized I knew nothing.
      My wise little one, my twenty-one year old philosopher, had once again taught me more about life than Socrates and Plato and Aristotle combined. It is in the struggle that  life has meaning. It is in facing the challenges-- overcoming some, accepting defeat by others, and  learning to live with the rest--that   real life is found.
    At that moment,  some of the blank spaces on my life exam began to fill in. Yes, suffering and pain and evil will always exist in this earthly world, but so does truth and goodness and kindness and love. The existence of one does not negate the existence of the other. We have to make a choice of whether we will choose truth and face the harsh realities of life or turn a blind eye in pursuit of  a vapid happiness.
     Even though life had played a cruel joke on my daughter by wrapping her in a cloak of physical disability, she is facing it head-on, eyes wide open,  and with honesty and integrity.  Her moral compass is set, her path has been chosen, and she is committed to the journey. And in the process, she is finding her way to truth. 
      And on that day, I began to learn something.

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