I feel like this month has been one of great contrasts. Maybe it’s just because it’s fall. Because of the altitude here in Colorado, it might be 80 degrees one October day, followed by snow the next. It’s not uncommon to also see this: people walking around in shorts and t-shirts with two feet of snow on the ground. Though the weather hasn’t really started to change drastically, fall is definitely in the air: it is drizzling and cold as I write this.
Two other things I’ve seen recently were also of drastic contrast. One was a link I noticed on a news Web site tucked in between stories about the economy and “Movie Star Drug Rehab Gone Bad.” The headline essentially proclaimed: “Expert believes smothering children compassionate.” In the story was a link to a YouTube video of a woman named Virginia Ironside, who was speaking on a British talk show. In an interview, she explains that she thinks “good mothers” would take a pillow and smother their suffering children. And by suffering, she primarily means children with disabilities.
Although I have never heard of Ms. Ironside, this line of thinking is nothing new. It is the same old story: a child who has a disability must invariably be suffering. According to this (faulty) logic, since a disabled child’s “quality of life” must be terrible, the compassionate thing to do is to get rid of the child. In reality, of course, it’s not only immoral, but a purely selfish thing to do.
(Here is the link to the video so you can see what is being said in the name of “compassion.” click here
In stark contrast was the theme of a movie I watched recently titled Tuesdays with Morrie. The film tells the story about a young man who promises his eccentric professor, who is also his mentor, that he will keep in touch after graduation. Fast-forward 10 years: the student is a successful sports writer, but he is dealing with issues in his personal life. Of course, he has not kept his promise to his mentor. While on a road trip, he reads a story about the professor and his losing battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Out of guilt, he decides to visit the professor and soon learns that the wisdom he needs for his own life can be obtained from his ailing friend.
I love this story for its depth; early on the mentor calls the young man on his fear of dying, love and closeness to others. The mentor asks, “Why are we so afraid of needing others?” As babies we rely on our mothers, and as a dying man he can’t even eat without the help of others, but the larger point is that we need others just as much if not more during the rest of our life.
The young man, as he is learning how to have a life worth living, serve his mentor by helping him with moving, using the restroom, and various other therapy needs. He learns how to care for someone else, and in turn, he realizes what it means to really live.
Back to Ms. Ironside’s comments, which I have a hard time understanding. Certainly, if a child is in pain, we as parents should do what we can to stop that pain. But what she is talking about is not physical pain, but rather “quality of life.” She and others like her assume that a child with a disability is suffering, but they imply that a life not lived as an intellectual or progressive is one of suffering. What they fail to recognize is that all of their degrees and intellectual endeavors are weak replacements for a life well lived. Indeed, I bet I know more people who are living fuller lives with disabilities than Ms. Ironside ever will. Her idea of life is a life of no trials – a life where nothing is ever difficult.
Contrast that with the life of Morrie; he is not enjoying his declining health, but he uses his circumstances to learn and teach others. I have met many parents who can attest to what I say. They would not choose the life they or their disabled child has, but their families’ lives are deeper because of their children, and they have gained more understanding through the adversity they have faced.