Ah, my sweet Ben! This week he has 3 AP tests– Calculus, European History, Biology– viola, sports, various other exams and his Junior Prom. You can practically hear his poor brain spinning in with frenzied exhaustion.
I, of course, want Ben to do well, to make up for every AP test I didn’t take, to fulfill his marvelous potential. But before I get too ambitious, I think of my friend Judy who buried her 17 year old son five years ago.
Joe Wolf was a normal, active boy. He played sports and practical jokes and traveled widely with his father and younger brother. On Super Bowl Sunday 2001, Joe was walking home from church when he was struck by a car and suffered massive brain injuries.
While Joe hovered between life and death, his mother, Judy, had a dream.
Joe was an infant again and she was cradling him in her arms. She carried him to the top of a mountain where angels awaited her. Awestruck, she knew that she was at the altar of God and she thought that she was there to give her oldest son back to his maker.
Her heart breaking, she extended her precious burden to the angels standing sentinel. But they wouldn’t take him. Anxiously she tried to hand him to one seraphim after another but each one turned her away. Slowly it dawned on Judy that Joe was hers to carry.
And so, she did.
Evading death, Joe stabilized and then remained at about the stage of a three-month-old infant. He smiled and laughed and recognized his favorite people but he could neither walk nor talk nor eat by himself. Each day, he was simply glad to greet the morning.
“The old Joe,” Judy told me, “wouldn’t have put up with this for a minute. But the new Joe seems perfectly content with life. We are learning to be content, too. You have to let go of the idea that tomorrow he might say a word or move his arm differently. Joe is the most ‘in the moment person’ I’ve ever known. Every day he begins anew.”
Watching Joe reminded me to be happy in the present, But what he lost helps me appreciate progress and change. I now see my children’s development as the miracle it is.
Three years after his accident, Joe passed away. His wheelchair was given to a charity, his night nurse moved out and the complicated bed and system of pulleys and slides for lifting him were dismantled. The burden of his daily care disappeared, but for Joe’s family, his absence is even heavier to bear.
“When something catastrophic happens in your life,” Judy told me, “you find out how deeply your roots of faith grow. If you’ve only been going through the motions, relying on others for your faith, your roots will be shallow. Your faith won’t support you when the storms come. For faith to sustain you, your roots need to lead straight to your heart.”
At Joe’s funeral, she addressed the children in the audience. “I’m going to tell you one of your parents’ great secrets. You know all the fuss they make about your grades and making the team and getting awards?” Her eyes swept through the room as she noted the many children and teenagers filling the chapel.
“This competition, this drive to measure up: It’s all a show. Your parent’s are in love with you anyway. From the moment you were born they adored you — all you had to do was show up.”
That’s it, Ben. Thanks for showing up.