Friday, April 01, 2005

Heroes of Life

I have nothing to say on Terri Schiavo specifically that hasn’t already been said dozens of other places. (Even DOB has broken his silence for the subject.)

But this one death is only a symptom. The much bigger problem that faces us today and every day after is how to change our culture so that human beings are valued merely for being human, and not for their level of rational consciousness. The question that faces me is, “What can I do to promote a culture of life?”

The simplest answer is I can keep doing what I am doing. My everyday tasks of changing diapers, fixing meals, and singing lullabies proclaim minute by minute (if I so choose, by my attitude towards them) that caring for another human being is a worthwhile purpose. Not just something one does because one hasn’t the education or smarts to get a better job.

For all the hysteria over the trauma of stay-at-home motherhood, though, my job is relatively easy. It’s a job that looks up. I am taking people from a state of dependence to a state of independence. I have hope that someday my tasks will be lighter, my work rewarded by seeing strong, intelligent young people march out to face the world on their own. The growth in my children’s independence may be bittersweet, but it is still something I can anticipate unashamedly.

A far more difficult task is the one my sister has undertaken twice in the past three years: caring for someone terminally ill. To watch someone move from strength and independence to weakness and helplessness; to know one’s tasks will steadily increase and the rewards steadily decline; to anticipate that the only release is the very thing one is dreading; and yet to undertake it all willingly—that is truly heroic. That also is a far stronger proclamation of the value of life—of every moment of life—as incredibly valuable.

Then there is parenting that does not look up. Ever since I worked as a teenager for NATHHAN, an organization for parents homeschooling special-needs children, I’ve had a special admiration for parents who care for children who won’t ever grow up. Once the severely disabled were institutionalized; now, they are more often simply killed. Parents who lovingly accept and rejoice in every day with every one of their children—regardless of how they measure up on the scale of “normal”—give hope that the attitude against life is not wholly irreversible.

NATHHAN has a new affiliate, CHASK, for parents who specifically want to care for special-needs children whose own parents cannot raise them. I am in awe of the love and faith of these parents; and yet I know they are real, ordinary people. (I worked in the home of Tom and Sherry Bushnell, the founders, who now have four adopted special needs kids as well as so many of their own that I’ve since lost count.) They just take seriously what they believe about the value of life. These are people who are not just anti-abortion, or anti-euthanasia. They truly deserve the title, “pro-life.”

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