SEEING TWO THINGS AT ONCE
Mitch was wearing one of his favorite new t-shirts a loving neighbor gave him when they learned he was dying. The shirt bore the words, “Watch me win.” Brave words we often say when we shake our fists at an implacable disease – as if our will alone could stave off our frail mortality. Though human will is powerful, it is no match to God's will. Though he didn’t win the battle with DMD (not a soul does), he did win the bigger, more important fight. Mitch was a good human – and at the end of the day, that’s the only fight that matters. His philosophy was to be nice to others and have gratitude for life – for in the end nothing else mattered.
I remember asking Mitch what he was thinking just after I took this photo. He said, “I’ll tell you later, Dad.” He would have this same look of knowing a few more times – and each time I asked he would respond, “Later.” Mitch never got around to telling me. Yet, I think I know.
As my son played with his toys, I couldn't help but notice the vein just above the bend of his elbow punctured by a tube that ran up his arm and pumped medicine directly into his heart. At first Mitch thought the medicine was making him better, but as death inched closer, he came to understand it was barely keeping him alive and that it wouldn’t last.
Slowly, almost invisibly, an old soul began to reveal itself. Not only was my son changing … my eyes were, too. I began to discern things that were kept from my mortal sight until then. There were times I thought to myself, “Mitch who are you, really? What is your real age and what are you sent here to do?” Though he was my child and I was asked by a loving Father to raise him, I felt like his soul was much older than mine and that, in a very real way, he was raising me. Heaven, it seems, is filled with curious mysteries.
Yet despite my growing sense he had an almost ancient soul … there he was, still very much a young child in need of love and comfort. I was beginning to see two things at once. I think Mitch was, too. I think he didn’t share with me what he was sensing because he didn’t want to frighten or disappoint me. I think he tried to protect Natalie and me in the same way we tried to protect him.
Not many days from this photo Mitch would struggle in his bed and say, “Dad, I don’t think I can survive.” Words that are forever seared into my heart and soul. At that moment I thought to myself, but didn’t say the words aloud, “Son, I don’t know how to live without you.” Then death came gashing and crashing through our door.
I would soon learn to look upon grief in the same way I saw my son; two things at once. Although the surface of grief is plain to see, seemingly clothed in pain and agony; there is so much more beneath – a certain beauty the human eye alone can’t see. It isn't easy or pain free - but somewhere in the midst of suffering there is purpose and a greater meaning. There are always two things at once: the thing that happens to us and then its purpose and meaning. We just need eyes to see.