When I was lying in the hospital bed a few hours after Penny was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, a nurse told me, “I had a special child too.”
I locked eyes with her and said, “How old is your child now?”
I expected to hear something lovely but not necessarily comforting about her teenager.
Instead, she said, “He died. A long time ago.” The words hit me like a bucket of ice water. I wondered why she had brought him up at all.
I winced and said, “Oh. I’m sorry.”
And she shook her head, as if I didn’t understand what she was trying to say. “He was a gift,” she said. I never saw her again. But I knew that I needed to understand what she meant with those four simple words.
David Brooks writes about the distinction between what he identifies as two different forms of liberalism, one based on the idea of the self as autonomous and the other as a gift in an essay for the Atlantic about Canada’s recent legislation related to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID).
Brooks explains the first perspective:
“I possess myself. I am a piece of property that I own… My life is a project that I am creating, and nobody else has the right to tell me how to build or dispose of my one and only life.”
And then he describes the second:
“I am a receiver of gifts. I am part of a long procession of humanity. I have received many gifts from those who came before me, including the gift of life itself.”
If there is anything I have learned over the past seventeen years, it is that all of life is a gift. And when I shift from seeing myself as autonomous, when I shift from operating in transactional terms of buying and selling, I begin to experience the fullness of true life. I begin to experience life in relational terms of giving and receiving where there is abundance and connection and obligation and suffering and great joy.
More with Amy Julia:
- What Is a Disabled Life Worth?
- MAiD and Lives Worth Living
- S6 E17 | Questions for a Life Worth Living with Matt Croasmun
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