It is 4:00am and I can’t sleep, so rather than toss and turn, I get up and write. Not sure why this happens, but many of my ideas for writing tend to occur at about four in the morning. When it comes time to hitting the letters on the keyboard, I am just transcribing words that have already been written in my brain. It is five days before Christmas with all kinds of stuff going on in the world – some good, some terrible, and some just a little boring. But for our small family, it is a very sad holiday season because on Thanksgiving evening, we lost our only son Edward to a fatal seizure.
Upon reflection, his death, while shocking, was not unexpected. His demise was foretold at conception as he was born with a genetic defect known as “DiGeorge Syndrome.” There is no cure for a genetic defect; he just lived out his life as this syndrome directed, and a long future was not to be for Edward. There are two universal things that we all experience: (1) We are in the sandwich between birth and death with the filling being life and what makes us human, (2) This sandwich is the only item on the menu.
I got to thinking about an analogy for life, and my thoughts went to my days as a Boy Scout. As a young person without a father to guide me, the Boy Scouts were a big factor in my development. They set the tone for my future. A memorable episode occurred when as a very confident skinny fifteen-year-old, I served as the instructor for the Canoeing Merit Badge. That was on Lake Otsego in upstate New York, which is a beautiful, but often treacherous, body of water. My student and I would paddle the heavy Old Town wooden canoes out some distance offshore and deliberately swamp them. We had no life jackets; it was just the two of us in sunken canoes. The lesson to be learned was how to rock the canoe to splash out the water, make it buoyant again, then get back in the canoe. The final act was to conduct a “canoe rescue” by putting the canoes at a right angle to each other and pulling one upside down over the other to completely drain it. By that time, the wind might have blown us about a mile away, so it was necessary to get in the bow and paddle like hell against the wind to return to shore. We just did it; there were no excuses allowed.
So what is the analogy? Let’s look at life as being in a canoe going down a river with you as the only occupant. We all get to paddle our own canoe since there is only room in it for one. Others can join us in their canoe, and even intervene to help us gain strength and learn how to navigate the river of life. We call them mothers, fathers, teachers, ministers, friends, wives, etc.
When the river is calm and we are full of energy, we make great progress and enjoy the beautiful experience. However, some of the canoes have defects and are not able to travel without help. That was Edward. There were many wonderful and talented people that entered his life as well as our life as they compassionately helped him. His journey became our journey. He was a human filter that selected our friends, and even where and how we lived. It is only on reflection that I realize how a child that could barely express himself could communicate so powerfully with just his presence.
It is the nature of the journey that we cannot paddle up stream. We can only journey towards the distant falls that mark the end of the adventure we call life. And so it was with Edward. His canoe was damaged and worn out. It could no longer be bailed out, and rescue was not possible. He quietly went over the falls.
As we enter the New Year, here is wishing that your canoe is watertight, your paddling is strong, and that you have a peaceful journey with an opportunity to commune with others and be a part of the community of life. The falls are a very long way down river, so enjoy your life as we enjoyed Edward’s life.