>This is a portion of an essay I wrote on August 18th after accepting my current job with a group home company, in which I take care of adults with disabilities in their home. I worked for this awesome company for three years in college and felt drawn back and certainly not because of the pay.
Conversations in my head about the Value of Life
…I really hereby say I alone cannot do this job. I got this job by a miracle (long story), and I do believe God led me to it, not so I could help, but so that I could be helped. As I am in training once again, I love hearing the stories and seeing the faces of the beautiful residents, some recognizable and others new. But again and again, I am puzzled: How did I get hired? How can I do this job? …Empathy, compassion, integrity–all the qualities this company asserts I possess–the Evil One would like to think I don’t have them. I know I don’t either, but with the Spirit, I do. I have had the Spirit all my life but have recently tried to be more conscious of his ever-presence in my life. Working for this company and with these wonderful people, it has to be said no matter how cliché, literally changed my life. And as I went on a walk today, I wondered at it, musing, What was it that really changed in me? The main thing was my amount of joy. The funny thing was this job was such a gift and I didn’t even realize it because, in the first place, I didn’t even want to work there. It took second place to a full time nanny position. But I accepted it since I needed a job, having lots of doubts, but still surprised they would think me a good candidate.
Today in the class we talked about intrinsic value and compared people’s value to the value of a car. We had to discuss the differences in a small group. The other two girls and I were at a loss for words because it was just so obvious how immoral it was to even consider comparing a car with a person. Anyway, it really did get me thinking. If a car is broken, there is a point you don’t fix it anymore. How sad it is to say, that some still view people this way; well, in their minds, they wouldn’t even consider them people. As I continued to feel more and more righteous indignation, I continually felt the doubts about the Truth flood in and then…the familiar voices. “But do you really believe that? All people have worth? How do you know they wouldn’t be better off dead? How do you know if it’s better to allow a child with Down Syndrome to live because that’s the ‘morally’ correct thing? How do you know they wouldn’t be better off without all that pain and sickness? So maybe they seem happy. But aren’t we just using them? To bring us joy? Think about it. They might not even want to live. At least the ones who are nonverbal…how are we going to know if they really want to be alive?”
I thought about how I had pulled up into the company parking lot an hour earlier. The parking lot was incredibly full but I luckily found a spot only a few doors down from the training center. As I pulled up, there was a lady sitting in the corner staring at me. Her whole body was noticeable because it was a clear door with narrow clear floor-to-ceiling windows on either side. She was wearing a purple summer shirt and white pants. Her one hand was crossed over her knees which were drawn up and I instantly noticed she was developmentally disabled. When our eyes met, she immediately produced a gigantic smile and her hand waved against the glass. I don’t know how others feel when they are smiled at by strangers, but I think it is one of the best feelings in the world. I immediately felt intense joy as I smiled in spite of myself. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her and her smile. She seemed to not want me to look away and the moment we shared was so intense, I was even afraid it might disappoint her if I looked down. A thought popped into my head: “She is such a beautiful person. Why would anyone look down on her? If they really looked they would see and experience such joy.” And I was comforted with the understanding of why God allowed people to have disabilities. And then, “But that is so selfish. You have no idea who that lady is or the pain and discomfort she might experience on a daily basis. Why would you say it’s good that God allowed disabilities, allowed others to suffer so that they could help someone like you?” And then I went into a tail spin as my mind recalled all my experiences of joy with my former residents, all six of them. I love thinking of them because I can’t stop smiling. But, is that okay? My doubts continued. Because looking back at my ACR job, I can’t see that I did much, but that I was the one continually blessed.
I think of *** who had so much to endure at the end of his young life. And I wonder is it wrong to think, What if *** had never existed? If he didn’t have to go through all that pain? But then I realize. *** had a really great life. Amazing parents and family. Parents who would have laid down their lives for him and maybe did. I don’t know. He had a good home and caregivers who also loved him. He loved going on trips in the car, on vacation. He liked reading books and holding hands. He loved holding little objects and throwing them. He especially liked licking his finger and then poking you in the eye with it (or the butt). Why would God not want *** to experience that love and to have us experience the joy he brought us?
And so my resolution is this: We can’t question God. Why he allows this person to live, that one to die. This perfectly healthy one to die suddenly, another to die a painful death. Why this amazingly genius of a person gets in an accident and suddenly has the mind of a five-year-old. Why this perfectly healthy baby dies at birth by pure accident, and this other one lives fifty years with the mind of an infant. Why this child has severe mental disabilities and that one has severe physical disabilities. Why another individual struggles with chronic pain…the list continues to eternity. It is the question of evil and suffering. The constant questions of Christians and non-Christians alike. But what I do know is what is the point of questioning? What is, is. If I got joy from being poked by ***, I shouldn’t feel guilty that maybe I am using him or something. (Okay so maybe only somebody with such obsessions and tendencies toward absurd guilt will have thoughts like this, but I am being honest.) I should revel in that joy. I used to just sit and stare at him (or another resident) and just thank God for him or her.
I am allowed to feel joy. That doesn’t mean I am saying, “Oh you’re so cute. I like when you make me laugh. Too bad you have to go through all that suffering. Too bad you were created to be used by others.” That is the Evil One trying to ruin my focus and make me think I am a bad person when I am truly one living in the freedom of the Holy Spirit, one whose belief in the sanctity of life is unwavering. Yes I struggle when I see pain and I admit I wonder, what if that person just died and went to heaven? I admit this because I have said it a lot about myself in my own struggles with depression. And when *** died, I knew it was God’s timing. (I had had so many dreams asleep and awake of this happening…I just wanted him to be at peace, free of pain.) I felt sad that I wouldn’t see his happy face anymore or feel his pokes, even if they were slobbery, but I was relieved that he was now freed to be the true unbroken person God had wanted for him before the fall of man. He was laughing constantly, running, walking (and enjoying it!), eating all his favorite foods, taking hot baths and just laying down at the feet of the Savior who had carried him all those good and painful years.
So I guess I will always struggle in my mind. What is life? Do I really value it? Because ever since high school (maybe earlier) I started wondering about the value of my own life. The Devil had a stronghold. Unfortunately, my genes and tendencies toward melancholia didn’t help. But I am happy to say I now 99% of the time value my own life. How much more can I value others’ lives when I value my own? We are each a son or daughter of the Risen Savior, made in His Image. Imago Dei. I say that when I see someone, a stranger; it especially helps if they are not the most attractive. I don’t know why God allows people with disabilities to have a place in our world except for the fact that I am a completely different person because of them. I don’t even feel worthy of all that care, love and joy they brought into me, transforming into someone I have a hard time recognizing today! I don’t know if that’s selfish or not. Who are we to say that people with disabilities don’t experience joy or pleasure, or that they are continually in pain or discomfort? We are not them. Only Jesus knows their soul. So to have peace with myself, I will say, I am cut out for this job. With Him and only with Him, otherwise I would not have made it. That goes for every challenging thing I have gone through. Another thought, maybe I have contributed to the lives of those people with whom I worked. Maybe God did work through me to better their lives in some small way. Maybe they are happy with their lives and to be alive in a way that we will never understand. Doesn’t everyone have a chance at life?