This I Believe

Rita - Scappoose, Oregon
Entered on August 7, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I hadn’t seen my friend in a decade, so we had a lot of catching up to do during her visit to my home. We reminisced and talked about where life had taken us since college.

It wasn’t hard to see where life had taken me, with a busy toddler interrupting our conversation, but it was my five-year-old son, Josiah, who punctuated the difference between the lives we had envisioned back in college and the reality of my life now.

Josiah was born with microcephaly—a small, damaged brain left him at the developmental stage of a six-month-old baby. He cannot speak, sit or crawl. He’s blind and has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and many other difficulties. He will always require total care.

As we sat together on the couch, my friend said, “After watching you with Josiah…” I was curious to hear how she would finish that sentence. Friends, family, even strangers often express inspiration seeing the relationship my husband and I have with our son. A realization that severely disabled people have personality, a deeper understanding of love, perhaps a spiritual insight: what inspiration would my friend take away from her week with my family?

“After watching you with Josiah, I’ve decided that if I ever get pregnant, I’m going to have a test to see if the baby is handicapped. If it is, I’m going to have an abortion,” she stated bluntly.

For a moment I was speechless. I tried to help her see the happiness in Josiah’s life, but as we talked, I realized it wasn’t just Josiah’s life that she judged not worth living. It was mine.

Josiah is now 21. I remember my friend’s judgment and wonder, what have I done with my life? I graduated with degrees in social work and Spanish. When asked what I planned to do with that combination, I quipped, “I’m going to Mexico to uplift the masses.”

An unexpected pregnancy soon after landing my first “real” job upset my career-focused plans, but I resolved to continue working half-time. Soon after Josiah’s birth, the bad news began to trickle in. No worries. I was back on the job right on schedule, six weeks after his birth.

As months went by, the trickle of bad news became a flood. By 18 months, I decided the scores of people I helped as a social worker couldn’t tip the scales against one child who needed my attention. When I decided to derail my career, I hadn’t realized it would be forever. But the day never came when I felt Joey needed me less than my old clients.

Oh, I do a lot of volunteer work, but my days are shaped by caring for one child’s needs. And this is what I believe: a life spent loving and caring for others—whether many or just one—is a life worth living.

I would like to say something to the masses in Mexico: I’m sorry I haven’t been there to uplift you. But somebody needs me here.