The crippled lamb

6 May

I can almost picture it. A hospital in the 1950s. Those few hours after twin baby boys are born. My grandmother, exhausted from birth, being told by a doctor, “He’s not worth living.” She, a feisty single mother, telling him that she’d have nothing to do with killing one of her twin sons. “But he’ll be a vegetable,” the doctor protested. The penicillin that saved one of her twin sons — a new, risky medicine — had also left him completely deaf, and the nasty virus it combated left him with a lower mental capacity.

She did not have a husband. She had only a doctor, and probably more than one, telling her to do the “right thing,” to only keep one of her infants. But she fought for a life, for the life she gave birth to, and refused to end it because it was less than perfect.

Life, no matter how imperfect, was, to her, sacred.

That baby who almost never lived is my dad’s twin brother, someone I’ve always known as my Uncle Greg. He is much more than a vegetable. He has the intelligence of a fourth-grader. He never forgets birthdays. He loves showing people pictures because to him, they are the words he cannot hear or speak.

Doctors still advise mothers to kill their babies, if they’re considered less than perfect. Last year I interviewed a mother of a baby who has spina bifada. Not long after she got the diagnoses while still pregnant, a doctor told her that she should abort the baby. And so I wonder: What is wholeness? Is a spine that closes right, a brain that’s fully formed, a leg that doesn’t limp? I run cold when I think about following this line of thinking to its very end. What if someday I — or you — are considered no longer “whole?” What then?

When my dad and Greg were children, my dad protected Greg. It wasn’t always easy. Cruel boys taunted him at the playground. I’m sure some days my dad wishes he didn’t have the burden. He was no saint. But, he took Greg under his arm, and he bore the burden well. They say the bond between twins is special, and I can see that, even now. My dad knew that but for a small change, it could have been he who was left deaf and crippled. He often felt guilty, like the one soldier who comes out of battle unscathed.

Not long ago Greg got cancer, and the radiation left him very weak. He lives with us now, and despite his challenges, he faces them with strength. He knows God, even though he’s never heard the words about Him. He often points to heaven, making the motions that that’s where his mother is. He knows.

In my eyes, in the eyes of my dad and my grandmother, he is whole.

But I cannot wait someday soon, to see him in a place where his physical body will be transformed by the one whose very presence heals. On earth he could never run, but there he will. On earth he was considered last, but there he will be first. Here, many considered him worthless to society, but there he will be precious. I cannot wait.

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One Response to “The crippled lamb”

  1. Grayquill July 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    I am not sure how I missed this post… I am sure glad I came back and found it.
    It speaks much of our humaness and our need for gratitude and the value people with different strengths and weakness have to make us a people that are civilized. You did good with this post…I am glad you have an Uncle Greg and I love the tenderness of your heart.
    May God bless you and Uncle Greg.

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