I am not a member of the Catholic church. I do wonder, sometimes, if perhaps I should be, as I often agree with its teachings and practice them far more diligently than some Catholics I have known, but that aside, I am watching Pope Benedict at a special blessing service for disabled youth in New York at St. Joseph's Seminary, and I find myself moved beyond words to accurately convey my feelings. I will, however, try to share some of them...
I am the mother of a disabled child, and the Pope's message of a valued and important life no matter what, is so lost on many, and yet cherished by some, who like me, see that value and importance every single day. I remember when my daughter was hospitalized at a Children's Hospital for a week after her birth. Her disability had been diagnosed but along with that came a cardiac defect and immature lungs that required oxygen support until her lungs matured so that she could come home with heart medication to stabilize her until she needed surgery, or outgrew the defect. (It could possibly repair itself as she grew.) There was a pump room on the infant ward so that breastfeeding mothers could use to pump milk for their hospitalized babies, and I became aware of a mother who was pumping milk for her infant son, who had another form of a genetic defect, but one that does not allow the child to live outside of the mother for more than a few days.
I sat in the next room and could hear her speaking to the nurse about her fear, her questions, her wondering why did this happen to her and her baby? The nurse had words of comfort and did her best to console this woman in her odd circumstances of working to use her body to feed a child she knew she would have to say good-bye to within the next few days.
The answer to her questions? God. I too asked similar questions at times, but I knew from the moment I received the news from my doctor that my daughter had Down Syndrome, that there was a reason this child was given to us. Our first reaction was to love her, and get her the very best medical care possible to stabilize her physical needs. In her 17 years we have celebrated the smallest of accomplishments, focused on these small gains and pushed aside the greater problems that we cannot control. We have learned patience. Not enough of it sometimes, but we have still gained far more than we probably would have if it had not been for this beautiful child.
We do not know the reasons for a child entering this world who leaves so shortly thereafter that he or she has not "accomplished" anything conventional in his or her short life. But, think of the inpact that child's short life, his or her birth, and death, have had on those around him. These are the lessons learned, the purpose for his or her birth, absolutely. God is the source, the strength, and the light to shine the way for our learning these lessons to better our lives and live them with greater meaning.
God Bless Pope Benedict, and may he have a safe journey home.