August 26, 2007
It's a divisive issue, and one I obviously feel strongly about. It's been the cause of many arguments and has damaged at least one friendship, I suspect beyond repair. I've been asked "How can I suggest that Schuyler is broken?" and told that it is appalling that I could believe anything other than she is okay just the way she is.
How do I explain that I find it even more appalling that a parent would blindly accept The Way Things Are without taking up that fight? Those are hard conversations to have. They are doubly hard when the person making the argument does so with courtesy and respect.
The person who wrote to me did just that, and the point she made was something of a new one. I do sincerely appreciate the fact that her email made me stop and formulate in words exactly how I feel about this. I won't quote her whole email, but I'm going to take the liberty of just a bit of it. I think this point is important because it touches on a thought that I've even had myself from time to time.
"My mind keeps asking the questions, 'What if these children aren't 'broken'? What if they are made exactly the way they should be? What if they were made that way to be a benefit to people like you and Julie?' You guys HAVE found your own path, and like you say, some days are good and some are bad, but it seems that the overwhelming consensus of both of you is that your lives are better because Schuyler is in it. So, what if God designed her to be the way she is to benefit you?"
That's an inviting thought, actually. I even suggested something similar to an old friend of mine recently along those lines. I said for many who believe in reincarnation, there are those of us who live the lives we live in order to learn things that we need to learn in our ultimate journey, but (they believe) there are also those who are placed here to teach those lessons to us. It's tempting to think of Schuyler that way, almost like a kind of angel sent to guide the rest of us down some path.
Ultimately, however, I have to reject that idea. Whatever effect Schuyler may have on those of us in her life, the fact remains that she exists in her own right and deserves to live the same life and have the same chances to make it in this rough, mean world as any unbroken child. I've often written about Schuyler's ethereal, almost otherworldly manner, but her reality is decidedly unromantic. If God placed Schuyler on this earth to suffer (and make no mistake about it, trying to communicate wordlessly in a world of the speaking is suffering, no matter how brave a face she puts on it) just so the rest of us could benefit, then what intrinsic value does her life really have? Does anyone deserve to exist simply as a tool, even if it is as a tool of God or Fate or Whatever?
"Schuyler isn't 'broken'. She's just different, and different isn't always a bad thing. Actually, in her case, 'different' means SO MUCH more!"
I understand what this person is trying to say, and I know that a lot of you might agree with her. But Schuyler's reality is not so pollyanna.
Schuyler has an indomitable spirit, and I believe she affects change on some level in everyone who meets her. But she's not just different. Sometimes I hate that word, too, the way it tries to simply place her in another category. Holland instead of sunny Italy, marching to a different drummer, whatever. I feel like the message that "different" sends to her is ten times worse than "broken". I think it tells her that her disability isn't responsible for her struggle and her developmental deficiency, but rather her inability to "think outside the box" or whatever. In my mind, "different" minimizes the very real challenge that she faces (even now, without the added delight of the probable seizures that still loom very large in her future). "Different" suggests that her developmental delay, which is still quite significant, is somehow her fault, as if she simply isn't trying hard enough.
It's easy for people looking in on Schuyler to romanticize her condition, and I know I do a fair amount of it myself. (Calling it her "monster", however, is obviously a writing device, a metaphoric representation of a thing that has no discernible form and which does not have a mind or an intent of its own. Just in case you were wondering if I really do think there's a nasty little green monster living inside her head...) But the reality of Schuyler's polymicrogyria is decidedly unromantic. It's a hard truth that she deals with every day, and one that Julie and I fight along with her, with no tender illusions. Schuyler has no use for gentle words to describe her monster, and she's got no time for them, either. You might disagree with me on this, but I think we would be doing her a disservice if we were to sugarcoat her situation or deny the indisputable obstacles that she faces and which she alone can surmount.
I appreciate the writer and all those who have come before her, as well as those who will continue to speak up. I appreciate their love for Schuyler and for my family, and for the positive way they want, they NEED, to see my daughter. But Schuyler lives in a world harder than the one most of us live in, harder and less certain.
Schuyler is not an instrument of God or a guiding angel for all the lost souls around her, not even my most lost of all those souls. She is a broken little girl who works her ass off every day of her life to fix what is broken and work out her own way through a very unromantic and unforgiving world. When, and not if, she makes it, when she carves out a unique and wonderful and, yes, different place for her life, it will happen because of her hard work and her ability to face the monster, unblinkingly, unafraid and with unsentimental clarity.
So that's how I feel about that.