aid of others

Recently Michael and I watched the 1946 film “The Best Years of Our Lives.” A beautiful black and white classic, it tells the story of three World War II veterans returning home from battle after their long deployment.

One of the soldiers, handsome young Homer, had both of his hands burned off while overseas. Each had been replaced by curved steel hooks, which he employed with great mastery, even striking a single match to light a cigarette.

The film beautifully explores loss, grief, desire, and transformation in a series of poignant scenes. One that deeply moved me was with Homer and his father. After supper, Homer goes upstairs to ready himself for bed. He takes off his coat then somberly calls down to his father saying something akin to “I’m ready, Pop.” Momentarily, his father enters the boy’s room and, in silence, helps Homer take off the leather harness supporting his prosthetic arms. He lays the hooked devices aside then assists his grown son into a pajama top. Homer, barely a man, swallows his pride, keeps his chin up and his eyes averted while his father slowly buttons up the front of his nightshirt. The intermingling of shame, pity, love, helplessness and gratitude are palpable, as the viewer understands that Homer is destined to rely on the aid of others to do simple and intimate things.

Often, when I help my six-year-old son Calvin with dressing, my heart floods with these same emotions and my mind these same thoughts. Though I feel no shame, I am immensely sorrowful of the great challenges Calvin faces in doing the simplest of tasks. As an example, when I put his shirt over his head Calvin can pull it down over his face but then he needs help putting his arms through the holes. He seems to be improving on these skills—albeit slowly—and for that I am grateful, though I worry one day his development will plateau, or worse yet and because of his epilepsy, regress.

Loving Calvin with the depth of my soul I would do anything for him, but that doesn’t stave off feelings of helplessness—that no matter what I do and no matter how many hours we toil at any given task—that Calvin will likely remain in a place where he too, will be reliant on others to provide for his most basic needs. And at night, when my emotions run at their highest, comes a paralyzing dread as debilitating as any, which is my fear of the future and the great unknown it harbors, if perchance I can no longer be there for my boy.

But like the young soldier, my Calvin is loved beyond measure by those closest to him, and so will receive succor even in my absence. And perhaps too, as Homer did for his loved ones, Calvin can inspirit others to undergo a transformation toward selflessness, similar to that of my own.  By seeing Calvin’s desire to succeed in the face of great adversity, always exuding a most pure and humble spirit, I aspire to gain patience, appreciation and acceptance, not only for those who need help but for those who selflessly give of their own.

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