Although she hardly speaks, Anna can confound scholars, pundits and activists. She lives a couple thousand miles from me, but she periodically reminds me of the worth of any human life and confronts how I measure it.
At age three, Anna struggles through each day with the assistance of a stellar medical team and the persevering love of her parents. Congenital challenges stemming from one of her chromosomes make every day of her life a battle for survival. Anna breathes only with the support of a respirator. Even “cures” to her condition, like prednisone, come with significant health risks.
Sometimes medical intervention can only run 3/4 of a mile. As Alexander Pope quipped: “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” When science cannot offer an entire solution, one appropriate question is whether to intervene at all. I remember asking that question fifteen years ago when our triplet teens were still in utero. Around 18 weeks, my wife went into premature labor. Her doctor performed a procedure which settled things down, but I remember wondering if we were only prolonging a failed pregnancy and what consequences might result.
A Message Wrapped in a Person
But sometimes a child with significant difficulties like Anna’s can present a picture of human worth more vivid and profound than what art, philosophy, or any achievement might offer. We are made in the image of God. All human history (and five minutes of a new day) reminds us this image is broken. No human life is fully as it should be. Among us, in the midst of all our conditions, a small, fragile life speaks. What message does Anna bring?
The burdensome care of Anna’s parents reflects their effortless love—a reminder of how the height of human love is not found in our wrinkle-free moments, but rather in our challenging and persevering ones. Our greatest capacity to love, in other words, is not demonstrated in the passion of romance or the rich exchanges of friendship, but in the circumstances which call out unconditional love.
Why would Jesus say in the scriptures, “As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me?” I think the answer has something to do with enlarging our capacity to love anyone. It’s as if to say this: You can only love as much as the one you love the least.
What difficulty have you faced which eventually enlarged your capacity to live and love?