Baby Barbara and I recently accompanied two-year old George for most of his five week stay in the hospital as he fought and recovered from bacterial meningitis. I’ve had people mention since then that I should do a post on what I learned during our little sojourn, but I’m . . . just . . . not . . . sure I learned much. I did notice some things though. Here’s one:
Note: This post is just my musings on this subject and is not a result of my having felt not properly supported during George’s illness. We were loved and supported well by our wonderful community both online and IRL. So, thanks!
That feeling of control that we want as parents . . . it’s an illusion.
I think on some level, when we hear about a tragedy, we try to figure out what that family did “wrong” so we can assure ourselves that it won’t happen to us. So if it was a car accident, we want to know if the child was buckled into his car seat properly. If it was a birth defect, we want to know if mom drank a glass of wine while pregnant. If there was a pool, we want to know if it had a gate. If we vaccinate, we want to know if an illness was the result of not vaccinating. If we don’t vaccinate, we want to know if the illness was the result of a vaccination.
If that family did something that *I* wouldn’t do, then I can move on with my life comfortable that my choices are protecting my children. But, of course, that means that in my head I’ve made that tragedy the fault of that parent’s choices. It’s not a very generous way to view someone’s suffering. And if I apply that same logic to my own family, I have to spend a lot of energy blaming or second guessing myself when things go wrong.
In George’s case, he was vaccinated against the bacteria that usually causes meningitis in children, but he was infected by a different strain of the bacteria, against which the vaccine does not protect. It was just a fluke that in his case a not-uncommon bacteria ended up someplace it shouldn’t be (the lining of his brain). During our hospital stay, we met other families with very different yet fundamentally similar stories. Sometimes bad stuff just happens.
We are such extraordinary creatures, so wonderfully complex and fragile. How many near-misses do our loved ones have every day, that we never even consider?
In our case, I really don’t believe there’s anything we could have done differently to avoid George’s illness. But in a hundred other cases–or a thousand–since he was born, I did or didn’t do something that might have ended up in his getting ill or injured . . . and he didn’t.
Be it the harvest, or how many children to have, or illness and injury, our ancestors understood that these things weren’t in our control, and that of course we would have to rely on our neighbors, and pray to God for the fortitude to get through. Not so much now. We want to believe that everything is a result of our decisions. And if it was your choice, it’s your problem.
Of course it’s our responsibility as parents to care for and protect our children to the best of our abilities. And to be responsible stewards of our lives in general. But when something goes wrong, even if it’s partially the result of, let’s call it “operator error,” it’s almost always also the result of things we couldn’t control. I think learning to view tragedy through the lens of happenstance rather than fault is profoundly liberating, in the way we treat ourselves and others.
God doesn’t will the tragedies in our lives, but he does allow them as a byproduct of free will and the natural world. Facing tragedy in our own families can increase our reliance on God and our connection to our fellow man. Seeing tragedy in someone else’s family can inspire us to love and prayer and acts of service.
It doesn’t really matter *why* a tragedy, if there IS a tragedy. Relying on God, and trusting him to help us persevere through difficult times should they arise, is a vastly different worldview than constant box-checking to try to make sure nothing bad could possibly happen. It’s a false sense of security that we are attempting to create. A false sense of power over our environment. My goal instead is abandonment to God’s will and acceptance of my current situation. It’s past blame and guilt and finger-pointing that we find the virtue of acceptance, of our own circumstances and those of others.
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