My youngest turned 18 years old today…which in my mind makes me officially old. Many parents face this milestone with a sense of accomplishment at a job well done. They got their child to adulthood. Their son or daughter can now vote, is legally responsible for themselves and most likely is either in their first year of college or getting ready to start it. My son is 18. But, due to complications from an acute illness he had as an infant, he won’t be going to college, voting or ever to acting like an adult. For us this is just another day; a continuation of the responsibilities and care giving required over the last 18 years. I know most people who don’t know me or my son will instantly utter something like,
“Oh, that’s awful. So tragic. Poor thing. I’m so sorry to hear that.”
I do appreciate the well-meaning, genuine sentiment behind those words. Yet, these days when someone meets us and reacts this way, I feel a sense of embarrassment for them. I respond firmly stating,
“Yes, it was tremendously tragic 18 years ago, but not now.”
You see my son is perfect just the way he is. Do any of us really get to decide how their life plays out? I stop to reflect on what is it that they see as so grievous. They only see the things he can’t do. Of course they haven’t gotten the chance to get to know him and see how happy he is. A stranger doesn’t know what my son is capable of appreciating in this life. But, the people close to us celebrate his life for what it is. He lives in the moment untroubled by past and future. He judges no one. He is wide-eyed, curious, social and loves being in the thick-of-it surrounded by busy, bustling people. He enjoys walks outside and watching the trees speed by during a drive. His wookie-like vocalizations and his huge smile are delightful. (Incidentally, Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca is also deaf.) In a word, my son is joy.
Science fiction is rife with examples of extraordinary medical technologies that can cure all of this world’s current health woes. Instantly, I think of the character James Rhodes from Ironman. Rhody who becomes paralyzed is aided by Tony Stark who creates braces allowing him to walk normally when he is out of the War Machine suit. Similarly, LeVar Burton’s role as Jordy, on the television series, Star Trek: Next Generation, gave writers an opportunity to explore topics surrounding life with disabilities. The character was blind, but benefited from a stylish visor implant. The device not only restored his vision, but allowed him to see things the normal human eye couldn’t. Of course, I can’t help mention the suit Darth Vader wears after the loss of his legs and his near death at the lava fields on the planet Mustafar. The idea of using medical devices to help people live a better life is a noble one. Yet, some few point out that just because we can do something doesn’t always mean we should. The deaf community has long fought to counter the push to use the cochlear implant as a means to “cure” deafness. Most people who are deaf resent the idea there is something that needs to be fixed about them. For them the inability to hear is just a part of who they are. They live happy, productive, rich lives.
Taking the idea of using technology to benefit humanity a bit further, there is a growing interest in wearable technologies that people can use to enhance the typical human body. VR googles, iWatches, and eye glasses that allow us to access the internet with eye gaze is perhaps the current limit to this concept of merging human and technological systems. Yet, anyone familiar with the Borg from Star Trek: Next Generation will give a bit of shutter and pause to consider if this is the direction we want to go in as a species. The Borg are an advanced humanoid society that have evolved to meld their biological bodies with robotics. They are very advanced and billions of individuals are connect intimately through a kind of wireless neural network. The end result is a total lose of free will and self-determination in the aim of serving the whole. The idea of a collective consciousness is one well explored in some eastern spiritual traditions and it has a sense of beauty to it. The Borg though are anything but this, they are merely pieces of a vast machine.
Another theme that is explored frequently in science fiction and fantasy is time travel. This is a concept that is immensely appealing to all of us. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back, hit delete a few times and rewrite the story of our live? I liken it to a video game. When the character dies you can restart at the same point, if you save your progress sufficiently. Feels like a cheat to me. Again, I return to my son. Would I wish he never got sick at two months old? Yes! Would I change that? Yes. Should I change it? Pause…now I’m not sure. I have always subscribed to the notion life’s tough knocks and bumps are learning lessons. They refine us, make us stronger; purer. When the storm clouds come it can be fierce and dreadful. But, as they recede we see the rainbow. So, I try to reflect on the unexpected joy, good, and benefits coming my way from the bad situations in life. Yes, we all have things we would change. But, I venture most of us wouldn’t.
Son, I love you just the way you are. I look forward to witnessing all the things in life you will do. I know you will make a huge impact on those around you. Like a pebble thrown in a pool of water your life will make ripples throughout the world. Happy Birthday!