Monday, May 23, 2011

He got it

On our journey with Teddy over the years, we have felt
that we have had to do a lot of 'training,' usually of those
who have letters after their last names or fancy titles before
their first.  From one of the first pediatricians to see Teddy
to psychiatrists in hospitals and psychiatric residential treatment
centers; from teachers who were certain all he exhibited were
tantrums to principals who acted as if a child with disabilities
was the worst thing to have in their school; from lawyers to
judges, from police officers to life squad members, from
claims representatives (obviously) trained to automatically
deny a certain percentage of bills (especially psychiatric) to
denominational insurance executives who always seemed to
manage to come up with one more hoop for us to jump through,
we have spent more months and years trying to convince the
experts that we knew our son better than anyone else might.

So, five years ago, when we set out on our encounter with the
justice system, we assumed that we would once again have to
'break in' a new expert, the psychologist from the developmental
center up in Columbus where Teddy had been placed after he
had been charged with murder.  We assumed that this person
would come in having given Teddy tests that really never showed
anything because they asked Teddy to do things he couldn't do.
We assumed that this person would rely on what the books told
him about persons like Teddy, what the studies had shown, what
the statistics indicated.  We assumed that we would have to deal
with another 'caring professional' who really could care less about
what the parents thought, felt, imagined, feared.

But we were wrong.

Dr. Khan got it.  Simply by spending time with Teddy, talking with
Teddy, getting to know him, caring genuinely for him (and yes, testing
him), he discovered how profoundly damaged Teddy was; more importantly,
he discovered the profound gifts which were Teddy's.  Dr. Khan never
indicated by word, by body language, by dismissive gesture that we
didn't know what we were talking about; rather, he treated us as partners
in seeking the very best for Teddy.  He never questioned the FAS, he
confirmed the MR diagnosis, he recognized the need for Teddy to be
placed in a safe, secure environment, not just for 12-18 months and then
discharging him because 'nothing more could be done for him' but for
his lifetime because everything could be done for him in such a setting.

At that all important hearing which would decide Teddy's fate and future,
Dr. Khan shared the facts, the findings, the statistics he had found.  But
then, as he has done at every successive (mandated by law) hearing
since, he gently and kindly explained to the judge just exactly who
Teddy was, the depth of his brokenness, and the reality that he would
never 'get better,' that there would never be a medication that would
'cure' him, that his disabilities were profound and life-long.  And as we
sat there that first time and in all the hearings since, we wondered to
ourselves, 'where has this guy been?'

In the last five years, Dr. Khan has been a professional to Teddy and
to us, and a sharer of compassion to our entire family.  He has always
been there for Teddy, when Teddy was upset about something that
someone had done or didn't do, as well as when Teddy just needed
to share a joke or a car magazine with someone.  He has been that
calm, caring, trusting harbor for three folks who had ridden over
stormy seas for so many years.

Tomorrow, I will go up to Columbus to celebrate Dr. Khan's
retirement party.  And as I drive up there I will wonder, as I
have for so many days now, how do I thank this good, this
gentle, this compassionate soul for saving three lives?

© 2011  Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

easter eyes

I grew up in a time when seat assignments in school were based on the alphabet, and so I was usually on the last row or next to the last.  The teacher would write our assignments on the board, and when school was over, I would move up to the blackboard and copy everything down.  Noticing this, my first grade teacher suggested to my mother that she have my eyes checked, and when we went to the optometrist, it was discovered that I did indeed need glasses.  And thanks to the generosity of the Lions Club, I got my first pair of glasses.

What a difference!  I could finally see the individual leaves on trees rather than green blurs, I could copy off the work from the blackboard without moving closer, I could actually see stars in the sky, rather than dim lights (of course, I thought how I saw - blurs and all - was how everyone's eyes worked).

It would be easy for me to simply take that childhood experience and compare it to what happened to the folks on the road to Emmaus.  That their eyes were opened, and suddenly they could see Jesus for who he was, not just some shapeless blur, that they could now see clearly, and would do so from that day on.

But the reality of my experience is that I have dealt with a lifelong struggle with very poor eyesight.  While the glasses helped, I had to get them changed almost yearly, because my myopia continued to increase.  I was trying bifocals by the 6th grade, and for years was the one who wore the glasses with lenses that looked like they had come off the bottom of coke bottles.  From year to year, the experts would just shake their heads, and grind thicker lenses.  Contacts were not an option, because of my severe astigmatism, and lasik surgery was too great a risk, because of how my retinas had been stretched.  As I moved from place to place, and acquired new eye doctors along the way, I got used to the "you have eyes I've only read about in textbooks!"

Over the years, due to improvements in contacts, I was able to try them and use them with much success.  Then, several years ago, "blessed" with cataracts, I had the surgery to have them removed and lenses implanted (though I had to see a retinal specialist before the doctor would consider doing the surgery, and then again after, to make sure my retinas 'survived').  For about a year or so, I could see 20/20 for the first time in my life, but now my eyes are declining, and the interesting thing is that apparently I am stuck with them, and the experts can't do things with lenses in glasses to really improve my vision, and I am now a prime candidate for macular degeneration.

To me, my journey with my eyesight is like my journey with Jesus.  Yes, there was that Emmaus Road experience when I saw Jesus for who he was, but once I left the table, and the bread had digested within me, life just became a series of struggles to see him.  I had to keep cleaning my 'lenses' of all the dust and detritus of the world, in order to catch a glimpse of him.  There was only so much the 'experts' could do for me, before leaving me to my struggles.  There were times when someone would hand me a book, or I would hear a sermon, or listen to a lecture, and it was like putting on contacts and being able to really see for awhile, but then . . . When I went on my journey to Gethsemani, Iona, and Taize, it seemed that for the first time I could see Jesus with Easter Eyes, with that clarity of vision, of life, of hope that I had always heard those who were born with 20/20 faith talk about, but always was told, 'sorry, you just will never have the capability to see that clearly.'  Even now, I worry at times about ever being able to see as clearly, as far, as dearly as I could with those eyes.

But though my Easter Eyes aren't what they once were, they are all I have right now, and maybe that's enough.  Maybe that's what those two folks in Emmaus discovered.  Yes, their eyes were opened and they could see clearer than they ever could in their life, they could run and tell everyone, "We have seen the Lord!" ('look, did you know trees had leaves?').  But as the years went by, as they journeyed on, as they walked with the dust and detritus of the world always around them, as they looked for that face in every face they met, for that voice in every person who spoke to them, for that grace and wonder in every moment they encountered - even as their memory faded, as their faith wavered, as their vision of the kingdom grew dim at times, maybe they they realized that though their Easter Eyes weren't what they once were, they were all they had, and they were enough to keep looking.

(c) 2011 Thom M. Shuman