I had a girlfriend who decided that she didn’t like driving out to my house to visit after we had moved. Her reasoning was that she didn’t know how to explain to her child as they drove past gated subdivisions filled with big expensive homes (operative word here is past folks, lest you get the wrong idea!) how come some people had so much more than they did.
This baffled me, because my friend was fairly well off by anyone’s standards. She didn’t have to work, she had a nice house, a late model car, a housekeeper and she bought pretty much whatever she wanted. When she brought this up to me, I countered (perhaps a little too defensively) that what I thought would be harder to explain is how come so many more people have so little. I suggested that she take a drive down to south Dallas and then have that discussion.
Needless to say, our girlfriendship was on the rocks and it didn’t require much more than a slight breeze to send it careening into a canyon. Nonetheless, I’ve thought back on that conversation many times since Sean came along, about how to explain the inexplicable condition of the world.
Where Sean takes swimming lessons, there is a boy in an earlier class with no legs from the mid-thigh down. I don’t know what his story is. When we arrive, we find his little plastic legs, complete with shoes and socks and pants parked near the changing table along with his pint-sized walker. Sean has been oblivious to this until recently. Several weeks ago, however, as I was helping him into his swimming suit, he pointed to them and said, “Somebody forgot their legs!” I looked at those little legs and I wondered if the mother of that boy ever considered that she not expose him to a world where people have legs, so that maybe he would never know that he didn’t. See how ridiculous that is, even for a heart that loves as deeply and intensely and ferociously and protectively as a mothers?
As Sean grows and his awareness of the world around him expands and develops, there will be many occasions that will require difficult explanation. There is a lot of ugliness and unfairness in the world that makes no sense no matter what your religious or political stripe. All I know to do is tell him the truth about the world. And the truth is I don’t know why some have more, some have less, some work hard and have little, some work little and have a lot, some are healthy, some are sickly, some have legs, some don’t.
I’ll tell him that both his father and mother believe that all blessings belong to the Creator and they are His to bestow and rescind as He pleases. I will tell him that both his father and mother have been blessed mightily and cursed tragically in their lives, as most people have, yet we are firm in our belief that our God is present and with us in all circumstances, rain or shine.
As Sean matures, I hope that he will learn that the measure of his life is in his character — not in what he has and most certainly not in comparison with what others may have. I hope he understands that his worth lies not in his legs or lack thereof, but in his heart. If he can learn to be contented with and grateful for whatever worldly blessings come his way, then whatever his lot, all will be well with his soul. And I will have done my job.
This post was originally published in May of 2006.