Some years back, The Onion, a satirical publication, announced in a headline, “Miracle of Birth Occurs for 83 Billionth Time.” At our older son’s Bar Mitzvah, my husband used this article to explain that we perhaps take for granted the milestones our children reach. We forget that each and every birth, and each and every event in that child’s life, is unique and special. Each bris, each first communion, each first tooth, each first day of kindergarten are all miraculous. We’ve somehow lost our wonder in the ordinariness of life. And yet, how much greater is the miracle when it is a child who has been ill, or who has a disability, or whom for whatever reason there was doubt that he or she would reach a particular milestone?
I imagine most parents with children who have been ill or who have special needs each have had their own unique form of what I call “late night bargaining with G-d in the ICU.” I would never dream of asking another parent if they would have made different choices if they had had a crystal ball at their child’s birth. I can only ask and answer for myself. When I look back at our son’s initial hospitalization, I know that deep in my heart my husband and I would have made the same choices. Each time a dour-faced cardiologist approached us with different possible scenarios and expressed uncertainty about unknown long-term consequences of this medication or that treatment, my husband and I would again tell the doctors to do whatever they could. We wanted to bring our son home. Consequently, I feel that we “signed up” for whatever challenges our son has subsequently faced. They’re part of the deal we made, and bless his heart (literally and figuratively), our son has done extraordinarily well.
What brings all this to mind now is that this weekend we attended a very special Bar Mitzvah for a young man who has faced some horrific medical challenges throughout his young life. And yet, he has an impish smile that can light up the dreariest day in February. He has been embraced by the congregation, which in turn reveled in this milestone with his joyous family. I had attended a similarly emotional Bar Mitzvah a number of months ago in which another medically fragile young man was celebrated. The boy’s pride and happiness were tangible to the entire congregation, which in turn shared his and his family’s joy. This earlier Bar Mitzvah was particularly emotional for me, because I attended it with a friend who had lost a young child. I was acutely aware during this Bar Mitzvah that whereas my husband and I had had the opportunity to make our late night bargains with G-d in the ICU, my friend and her husband never had that chance: their son had died unexpectedly.
So where am I going with this? I really don’t know. I guess with the winding down of another year, I’m just wishing the best for all of our children. Each is so precious, and many of us recognize how fragile our children can be. I want to thank everyone who has looked out for and helped them: their doctors, their teachers, their therapists, and if need be, their lawyers. I know how grateful many of us are for the extraordinary support we’ve received from our families and friends. May all our children be healthy and happy and always be treated with kindness, understanding, and respect. That is certainly not too much to want for our children.