If you’d told me five years ago that I was soon to bear a disabled child with blood cancer—for whom I’d have to surrender, possibly forever, career and love life—I’d have contemplated suicide. Moreover, I would have thought this a level-headed response: not an act of despair but a lucid sort of Swiss-style euthanasia.
Cristina Nehring and her daughter Eurydice
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Am I “cheerily generalizing” as Solomon says of other Down syndrome parents, “from a few accomplishments” of my child? Perhaps I am. But one thing I’ve learned these last four years that possibly Solomon has not: All of our accomplishments are few. All of our accomplishments are minor: my scribblings, his book, the best lines of the best living poets. We embroider away at our tiny tatters of insight as though the world hung on them, when it is chiefly we ourselves who hang on them. Often a dog or cat with none of our advanced skills can offer more comfort to our neighbor than we can. (Think: Would you rather live with Shakespeare or a cute puppy?) Each of us has the ability to give only a little bit of joy to those around us. I would wager Eurydice gives as much as any person alive.
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I, too, am a slow learner. Every day, Eurydice has a thousand things to teach, and every day I assimilate precious few. One thing I have grasped though is that the more I do, the more I can do. Raising my girl taps resources that did not exist five years ago. In many ways, she’s still a baby—not yet continent, not yet talking. Some days I fear she will go from being a baby to being an invalid. Medical risks are legion with Down syndrome, and they come on quickly.
The wise learn from experience, especially tragic experience, what is truly valuable in life, and their own and humanity's limitations and glories. The ability to laugh at one's own presumptions--especially those of us who have been coddled from youth with "what a bright little boy" or "what an intelligent little girl" and teachers enjoying our "brilliance". The most important thing in life is not intellectual excellence, but the ability to give love and receive love. She's exactly right that in day-to-day life and especially in tough times, I'd rather have a spouse, brother, good friend, or even my dog than the brightest, most talented person in the world at my side.There are reasons to think the future could be harder—not easier—than the present. But while certain experts (repeatedly quoted by Solomon) have suggested that this leads to “chronic sadness” in parents of children with Down syndrome, I find it leads to “chronic carpe diem”—a chronic desire to seize the day and wring the best possible from every moment—and from myself.
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The joy Eurydice takes in each detail of life is the most infectious quality I’ve ever known. When she flings her arms around my neck as she does every day, every night, my most recurrent fear is no longer relapsing cancer, no longer early dementia or heart disease or hearing loss—or even the fact that Eurydice is growing up too slowly. It is a testament to how radically this child has transformed me that my most recurrent fear may be that she’s growing up too fast—that one day she could be too mature to give me those massive, resplendent, full-body hugs.
In her parental and personal crisis, Cristina Nehring has found a major key to happiness. I say "a" major key because as a Christian, I would be dissembling if I did not attest that "the" key is God's love and blessing.