Toward the end, Mitch was becoming increasingly weak. His fate was slowly becoming visible – which was difficult to watch. You see, to have a child with DMD (or any fatal illness) is to watch your child die in slow motion.
On this day, we had just taken some family portraits - something I rarely did because I never felt I was very good at it. I preferred more candid photos of our family anyway. Mitch was so cooperative and tender when it was his turn – and because of that, we were blessed to capture a portrait of Mitch that was a mirror image of his sweet soul. I will forever treasure that photo.
When it was time to move on, Mitch said softly, “Mom, will you help me off the ground? I can’t do it by myself anymore.” Natalie’s smile faded slightly, and a pang of sorrow showed through her countenance.
By conventional terms, Mitch wasn’t strong – but he was strong where it mattered ... and that's all that mattered. The notion of strength these days seems to masquerade as brute force, chest-thumping, and vitriol. The irony of anger imitating as strength is when everybody is yelling, nobody is yelling anymore. Outrage becomes the new normal – and never have I seen a man more careless and weak as when he was drunk with rage.
Author Eric Hoffer observed, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” I’ve seen plenty of rude people in my life. Ironically, in their perceived strength, they were weakest. I’ve seen successful people fail at being true leaders when there was an opportunity to do a good work for humanity and mentor a rising generation with capacity and great desire. I’ve seen some of them abandon reason and their religion for madness and disillusionment. While they were pointing to the failures of others, the more searching question they ignored was who really failed who.
In contrast to those would-be-giants who took a low road, I see my son in this photo … weak, inexperienced, yet sincere at heart. Even in all his weakness, I discovered tremendous moral strength. Mitch learned what so many forget these days, to “Be nice to each other and be glad you’re alive. Nothing else matters.” I’m pretty sure if my little boy were still with me he’d add, “And help each other along the way. Life’s too hard to do it alone.”
I’ve been taught that we are given weaknesses in this life so that we might become humble. And, if we humble ourselves and seek God’s help, those weak things can become strong things. In matters of the mind and soul, weak things don’t automatically become strong. In fact, they will remain weak, and possibly become weaker still, if we aren’t conscious of turning those weaknesses into strengths. Heaven knows I have many weaknesses and I often seem to fall short of who I want to be. But then again, who doesn’t? Any more, I focus less on being discouraged over where I think I should be and instead more on what direction I’m headed. The journey is kinder and more rewarding that way. If you haven’t tried to see life through that lens, give it a try.
Just yesterday I was speaking with a colleague about whether the notion of “living with no regrets” is attainable. He thought for a minute and wondered where the truth was. I then said, “I believe that is a false promise. Everyone has regrets because everyone is human and makes mistakes. Instead, I believe we should learn how to turn regret into resolve. The most realistic aim in life is not to live a life of no regrets, but rather to live in such a way we’re glad we lived the life we lived. We’re glad of the joys and sorrows, successes and failures – because, if properly examined, they each contribute to making us wiser and stronger.”
Throughout my life, I have been injured by some who masqueraded their weakness as strength. In stark contrast, I’ve been inspired by a little boy whose weaknesses revealed his true strength. What’s more, my son’s journey taught me however much I stumble and fall; I have a loving Father who can help me through it all.
I am a lowly beggar in search of understanding and peace, and the heavenly paradox is it only comes when I try to bring others relief. As I get a little older, I worry less about the many and more about the one. In God’s arithmetic, it isn’t about the 99, but instead about the one. That is, and will ever be, where the work of the soul is done.