finding purpose

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

—Anne Frank

One thing I am not is a fatalist, though people from all walks of life, for whatever reason, often assume that I am. It might be the cashier at the grocer, the man I pass walking his dog on the fields, or perhaps it’s another mother I meet in a coffee shop or a new friend, and often mere strangers tell me, upon hearing about or seeing Calvin’s struggles, that “things happen for a reason,” or “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle,” to which I reply kindly, “What about the poor folks who take their own lives because of situations they couldn’t handle?”

I remember watching the film Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman. She plays Becca, a woman whose only child, a four-year-old son, runs out into the street in front of his home and gets hit by a car and dies. She and her husband decide to go to counseling with a group of parents who have also lost their children, some to cancer, some to disease, some by accident. One of the mothers speaks sullenly about her daughter, dark grieving circles under her downcast eyes, and says, with little conviction, “God had to take her. He needed another angel.” Becca replies strong and incredulously, “Why didn’t he just make one? Another angel. I mean, He’s God after all.”

Any time well-meaning folks tell me that things happen for a reason I think of this scene and my mind rolls over images of my friend Emily’s toddler Ronan who is dying of Tay-Sachs, of my friend Christy’s son Will who suffered a lot in life and died when he was only four, of my friend Lidia whose beautiful daughter was stillborn, of my friend’s son Leland who, at only twelve days old, got meningitis from a mosquito bite and ever since has suffered up to forty dangerous atonic and tonic-clonic seizures every day and must be drugged, like Calvin, to try to keep them at bay, albeit unsuccessfully. No one can tell me there is reason behind these maladies. No one.

Though I’m not a fatalist, one thing is certain, I am an eternal optimist. I know that, if I am strong, I can decide how to handle the tragedies that inevitably happen in life, so I choose to see beauty and opportunity in that which has caused me much grief and hardship. Calvin, whose health has been seriously compromised by seizures and drugs, has shown me to live life day by day, to immerse myself in the moment and to savor it gracefully, to love unconditionally. The strains that having a child with epilepsy has put on our family has only made us a stronger more cohesive unit, a force of love to be reckoned with. The people I have met along the way—the doctors, the mothers, the nurses, the children, the teachers, the therapists, the writers—have enriched my life in a way impossible to describe. The support I’ve received from old friends, former coaches and teachers, former acquaintances who’ve become friends, from new friends and from family is astounding, humbling, brings me to tears and lifts me up all at the same time. My life is full and rich beyond measure, which makes up, in part, for the gross limitations that having a disabled child with intractable epilepsy places on my dreams, my desires, my psyche.

So no, in my world things do not happen for a reason but rather I choose to find purpose in the stuff of life, and I am forever thankful for the people who have helped me to find it. Many of you, my readers, help me through the darkest, hardest of days when you reach out to me with a kind word, or when you share Calvin’s story. You let me know that I am not alone. Without you so much wouldn’t be possible. You make the world a better place for Calvin and me to live. What more profound purpose could any of us find in life but to do that for someone else? Thank you and keep up the good works. What goes around comes around.

In honor of the last day of epilepsy awareness month, please share this story. Help bring us one step closer to a cure.

photo by Michael Kolster

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