Archive for February, 2013

Our oldest son is 31-years-old. We adopted Geoffrey in 1981 when he was four weeks old. When he was approximately three-and-a half, after an extensive evaluation, a doctor told us that Geoffrey would be mentally retarded. No one who has not experienced such an announcement can appreciate how devastating this was for Jeannie and for me. In one instant all our hopes and dreams for Geoffrey were dashed, and we faced an uncertain, fearful future for which we felt totally unprepared. Acceptance did not come in a month or even a year, but eventually it became impossible to deny the reality of the diagnosis. Geoffrey is better at some skills than others, but basically he functions at a four to five-year-old level.

Jeannie and I could have reacted as 80% of parents do in such a situation, and one or the other could have sought a divorce. But while our wedding vows did not use the actual words, “for better or for worse,” that kind of commitment was at the heart of what we had promised one another. So we decided to embrace the new reality and forge new hopes and new dreams. Over the years we have learned much about our medical and governmental systems we would just as soon not have experienced. I will not pretend that our faith was strong throughout this experience. If our faith has grown, it has done so through the crucible of pain and disappointment. When Geoffrey was diagnosed, I will admit to being terrified of what the future might hold and to being almost overwhelmed by the responsibility. But step-by-step we learned and coped.

Not for a moment would I downplay the struggles we have faced or the problems we still confront, as Geoffrey is still living with us in our retirement. But there are some characteristics that Geoffrey displays that, while very different from most people, can speak to all of us. Let me list three.

  1. Geoffrey is almost always happy. He responds to everyone with trust and enthusiasm. He knows nothing of black or white, male or female, or any other artificial distinctions.
  2. Geoffrey has almost complete trust. Indeed, this is one reason we must be careful. It would never occur to him that anyone might wish to hurt him. Most people respond positively to Geoffrey, because he is open and direct in expressing his affection for virtually anyone he meets.
  3. Geoffrey assumes he will be cared for because he always has been. To whatever degree he possesses faith, it is simple, pure, and childlike, without any of the doubts or reservations we “wiser” people possess.

As I said earlier, I do not wish to minimize the difficulties or the hardships; this is not the life we would have chosen. At the same time, we have learned so much from Geoffrey that is positive. I don’t know what you are struggling with now. Perhaps it is worse than our situation. I am convinced, however, that the reality of that situation depends as much on how you respond to it as it does on the hardship itself. Happiness is not dependent on circumstances. In a situation in which 80% of couples divorce, Jeannie and I are happy even as we face daily challenges. We could just as easily have chosen to abandon our commitment and wallow in self-pity and despair. The temptation to do that was very real, and it resurfaces occasionally. I cannot change reality, but I choose to be happy. What about you?

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