Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
For those of us who are parents, the question of hope takes us directly to our children. Our hopes are for our children and the life that we launch them into. Then at some point, usually later in life, we discover our hopes are in them, as we look to them to achieve what we were never quite able to pull off. Things like a cleaner, safer, more peaceful planet, whose driving force is love, rather than violence, destructive consumption and greed. Wowser, that’s idealistic. Yes it is, but isn’t idealism the structural helix of a healthy imagination? And isn’t imagination the magnifier of possibility?
We (together with my wife) have three beautiful children. Our experience of hope is expressed and experienced in their lives. Each is a separate facet of our hope, but I want to focus on my youngest, and only son, and from my perspective, rather than ours. Mark was born late in the game, ten years late. Everything went smoothly, and he was a beautiful boy, who from his first moments was very obviously my son. Even today, seventeen years later, people look at him, and then at my worn out gray and fuzzy face and they say, he looks just like you. I’m not sure what they see, but when compared with my boyhood pictures, the resemblance is uncanny. I was a very proud father, who immediately began to imagine the possibilities. This boy, with the benefit of his mothers genetic superiority, would be able to achieve all the athletic goals that I fell short of. I would be the next Walter Gretzky, teaching my boy to skate and handle the puck. Or maybe I’d make the rink and send Mom out to teach the skills. I hoped he’d be a better me.
Within the very first month of Mark’s life, I had to let go of that dream. Although there was no exact diagnosis, it was very clear that, genetically speaking, Mark was a few genes short of a full helix. I remember going for a walk, late on a cold winter evening, letting go of those dreams, and weeping from the deepest part of me. And yet there was hope.
I got up the next day, freed from expectation, freed to imagination. I simply had to change the equation from, hope = (genetic potential x opportunity + encouragement + discipline – laziness) x expectation, to hope = possibility x imagination.
In the first few years I watched Mark learn how to crawl. I remember the moment so well when he manage to climb the one single step out of the family room, into the foyer. We were watching the Oakland A’s and keeping one eye on Marky. Once he figured out how to get past that step, possibility would be magnified. Mark had been working on get up over that step for weeks. He was able to get one knee up, but then seemed unable to get any further. This day though, his determination was palpable. After consistently failing for a more than an hour, he suddenly found that perfect tipping point, and up he went. There it was, hope. Mark, all on his own, demonstrated everything I hoped for him. He multiplied all the limited possibilities that life had dealt him, by his own unlimited imagination. Mark was 3 years old.
When Mark was 4 years old we moved downtown. Both Linda and I had been volunteering with a homeless shelter and we wanted to get closer to the action. We were commissioned by a suburban church to be missionaries to the homeless in the inner-city. Our job was to nurture hope in a very marginalized group of people living on or near the street. I set up a woodworking shop and invited a few to come discover possibility. At the time we had no idea what a vital role Mark would play in that work. I thought he would be received as that retarded kid in the wheelchair. I thought we’d get the usual polite yet awkward stares that had become such a regular part of our suburban existence. Not so. The street folks took to Marky like he was one of their own. They seemed to understand the unlimited possibilities inside the little kid with so many outward limitations. They talked to him, directly. Marky was instantly accepted, and deeply loved, and I don’t think I had ever considered that possibility. In collaboration with his new friends, Mark was defining the possibilities.
This little man is now 17 years old, and still, despite having no language, and having lost the mobility he once had, he’s constantly redefining possibility, and bringing hope that changes the world. His condition, although not diagnosed, is clearly a neurodegenerative disorder. Today the physical possibilities for Mark are very limited, he’s very weak, just hangin’ on, but if you catch him during one of his six or seven waking hours, he’ll flash you a grin that tells you he believes otherwise.
My hope is that for the rest of my life I will always see the possibilities through the magnifying lens of God’s imagination. That’s what Marky discovered in his short life, that’s the gift he’s given us. There is hope.