Last night our family attended a Halloween party at Dave and Buster’s organized by our local MDA chapter and sponsored by IGT. If you’ve never been to a Dave and Buster’s it’s basically the Colosseum of arcades with a restaurant and bar, and for Monday’s family event, they whipped up a huge buffet of kid friendly foods like sliders, pigs in a blanket, french fries, mac and cheese, etc.
The whole family had a great time. Although we always draw a few stares (there are seven of us after all) it was nice to not be the only family with a wheelchair, or even two wheelchairs. Volunteers from the MDA and IGT mingled and helped kids with pumpkins, chatted with parents and basically tried to help Tony and I, and all the families, relax, have fun, and not worry about trying to keep track of all our kids in a strange place.
Some of the IGT employees even brought their families to help. I chatted with one man about the long standing relationship the company has with the local MDA and how they enjoy helping at the summer camp and sponsoring the yearly party. As I reflected on our conversation later, I realized that the extent to which a person (or company, country, society, etc) helps others is a true measure of his greatness.
The most popular, and most beloved, people throughout history are often those who helped, or gave back the most. At the top of the list of course is Christ, who gave everything so that we might gain eternal salvation. Then we have many saints who served the poor and sick, like St. Catherine of Genoa, or ministered in times of persecution like the English Martyrs Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Harriet Tubman are some historical examples one might include.
It is easy to see in these examples that it is not only the giving, but the sacrifices that are made in helping and serving others. True giving comes at a cost to the giver; it requires putting the needs of someone else over the needs of one’s self. But ultimately, these acts of service make us such better people, though, often such considerations do not strike us until later. For example, I can see clearly now how motherhood, and then special needs parenting has forged me into a stronger, more sacrificial person that I could have been otherwise.
I do believe the majority of people in the world want to do good and help others. I think most of us would agree, religious or not, that the benefits to helping your fellow man resonate beyond just the soup kitchen,hospital or MDA fundraiser. Society is better when the majority of it’s members engage in charity.
However, today a common way proposed to help your fellow man is to eliminate his sufferings through death. We are quickly becoming a society that does not want to eliminate suffering through charity and service but through the elimination of the person. We are sacrificing people, rather than our time.
As I thought back to all the families in that room, laughing, painting pumpkins, enjoying themselves I thought back to the wonderful opportunity they were giving the MDA employees, volunteers and IGT volunteers to serve others. We, as individuals and as a society need opportunities to give back. We need opportunities to get our hands dirty and do the hard work of helping others.
When we look at a diagnosis like Muscular or Spinal Muscular Atrophy as something that only leads to suffering and something that might be eliminated in the womb, we deny parents like Tony and I the opportunity to become better people through sacrifice and service. We deny my children the opportunity to learn unconditional love. We deny people moved by our situation to give back through volunteer work or a full time job at a charity that serves families in need. These are not lessons learned in books, through writing a check to a charity or dropping a couple dollars in the Salvation Army pot at Christmas.
Yes, neuromuscular diseases are awful and you don’t need to remind me, or any other parent in my shoes what the ultimate outcome will be for our children. But don’t seek to help us, or our children but offering them physician assisted suicide. Let me serve my children until God determines it’s time. Let me sit with an aged relative, a family member losing their battle with cancer and give them my time, comfort and love. Medicine can eliminate the pain without snuffing out a life that is offering us the opportunity to be the best person we can be.
If society is successful is eliminating all children who may suffer through abortion and end the lives of all people who no longer wish to live because they, or their loved ones, believe they are suffering can we really be proud of ourselves? Can we really pat ourselves on the back at a job well done? Is that really charity? Will that really be the crowning glory of our modern society?
Who would be next? Perhaps once we realize that suffering is best eliminated through extermination, we could set our eyes on the poor, homeless or mentally ill. Why should we be forced to help, serve and sacrifice for these suffering folks when we can simply do them the favor of killing them?
It is truly our selfishness, masked as mercy, that parades as charity today. We have more wealth and resources than at arguably any other time and place and yet we can’t spare the time and effort to care and love the most vulnerable of society. We’d rather kill them, for their own good, and call it our good deed of the day.
Perhaps instead of viewing a person as a diagnosis or disease to be eliminated we should start taking more time to see people face to face; babies with Down Syndrome or a cleft palate snuggling with their mothers, people with advanced Spinal Muscular Atrophy or ALS being fed and changed by their caregivers, seniors with Alzheimer’s living together but each in their own world.
This is why I get a little giddy every time the Pope stops his car to kiss and bless a handicap child or adult. He’s bringing attention to these people, to show their importance, in a world that seems obsessed with eliminating them from view entirely.
We can help these people without ending their lives. We can serve them and sacrifice our time and our money for them. We will be better for the experience. They will be better for the love they receive and our society can redeem itself through the exponential growth of people loving one another without limit.