Journalist Ian Brown applied his skills to plumb the depths of raising a son, Walker, who has severe disabilities resulting from a genetic disorder, CFC. In his quest for meaning, he seeks out wisdom from a number of sources including Buddhism, a shaman at a native healing center, and Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities. As a Christian, I can’t endorse all of his conclusions, but reading about his journey helped to enlighten my own path. It’s something that some of us Calvinists call “common grace.”
Brown published the fruit of his reflections in a variety of places including an insightful series in the Toronto Globe and Mail and in a book which bears the same title as the online series: The Boy in the Moon. The Globe and Mail published a review of the book last fall.
Brown begins his search for meaning by asking difficult questions:
The hard part is trying to answer the questions Walker raises in my mind every time I pick him up. What is the value of a life like his — a life lived in the twilight, and often in pain? What is the cost of his life to those around him? "We spend a million dollars to save them," a doctor said to me recently. We were sitting in her office, and she was crying. "But then when they're discharged, we ignore them."
One of their doctors suggests that meaning is best found not only in accepting people but also in valuing people as they are, not as we might wish them to be:
The problem, Dr. Blumberg said, lies in our unwillingness to accept that a handicapped life has real value, especially if the value is subtle and hard to quantify. "Families often do find raising a handicapped child a gift, despite the hardship," he said. "It creates new relationships, reveals new capabilities. The trick is to give up the idea of the potential child and accept the actual child."
Brown finds a similar answer in talking with Jean Vanier, who offers extraordinary insight not only into what it means to be a person with a disability, but what it means to be human:
Every time we meet someone who is severely handicapped, Mr. Vanier believes, they ask a question: Do you consider me human? Do you love me? Our answers define not only who we are, but how human we want to be.
The more we meet the handicapped on their own ground, rather than our own, Mr. Vanier says, the more we evolve. We begin in fear of their appearance and behaviour; move on through pity; pass through the stage where we help them and respect them, but still see them as lesser beings; until finally we experience "wonderment and thanksgiving," and "discover that, by becoming close to disabled people and entering an authentic relationship with them, they transform us. They help us to move from the personal desire for success and power to a desire to be with those who are weak and help them to be just as they are, knowing that we receive as much or even more than we give."
In the last and highest stage, "we see the face of God within the disabled. Their presence is a sign of God, who has chosen 'the foolish in order to confound the strong, the proud and the so-called wise of our world.' And so those we see as weak or marginalized are, in fact, the most worthy and powerful among us: They bring us closer to God."
Last year, the Canadian L'Arche devoted an entire edition of their newsletter to Walker Brown.
Whether you get the book or read the articles in the Globe and Mail, your time will be richly rewarded.