Right off the bat, in a pointed preface titled “Crippled”, Christina Chase offers the kind of memoir I want to read.
The illustration of her experience as a woman living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy will teach me through that human inclination to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. She reaches into the depths of her experience and, by doing so—expressing her aching realization that she is alive and no one else can live the life she has—I am invited to think for myself what this means. What it means for others like her who are handicapped unlike me, what it means in my love for my son who has a chronic medical condition, and also what it means in my own weaknesses.
Because, as she says, we are all crippled.
It Is Good To Be Here
In seven sections, Chase walks the reader through elections begun in meditating her own condition, then spreading them out like water poured from a vessel, touching the lives of those around her, reaching even unto us, who have never met her.
She begins by opening us up to the wonder of creation. That wonder is challenged when we encounter illness and deformity. If as a woman, pregnant while I read it, I wish my vocation were not so bodily so that I could spend my hours praying and meditating. Chase reminds just how are earthly Christ’s humanity is.
As I progressed through the internal journey of these reflections, I found the other meditations I planned slipping away as this simple work from the heart and mind of a woman, dependent on those around her for her care, unfolded my fears for my unborn child and soothed them with the hard-won wisdom of this woman.
In the second section, she expands the scope of reflection to her parents’ experience, the experience I am closest to as a mother of a child with complex medical needs. When her parents heard her diagnosis, the doctor said, “she will always have her smile” (32).
With tears of affirmation, I read on:
the momentous day of my diagnosis was also the first day that [my parents] began to discover their own deep strength and unique gifts. they possess understanding, acceptance, patience, selflessness, generosity, and undaunted joy—strengths and gifts which were not readily apparent in their grieving, but which slowly unfurled within them. Love was the key that opened their hearts to Divine Grace, so that they could recognize the truth, beauty, and goodness of self-sacrificing love and be fulfilled and who they were created to be. Love was the key that opened their eyes so that they could see the truth about themselves, their children, and the terribly beautiful and sacred wonder of human life.
It was like the Lord speaking to me.
The littleness of our lives and God is actually greatness.
The Incarnate Word
Chase digs deeper in her meditations on the humanity of the Incarnate Word.
The perfect human being – God in the flesh – did not use divine power to overcome a struggle or avoid hardship. He used divine power so that he could suffer … Our natural limitations are sacred because the full reality of being human is sacred. We are walking with Christ, we are living Divine lives, even when we are tempted, so long as, in our reactions and decisions, we trust God and remain lovingly with Christ, striving to choose wisely.
As a mother I spent my days thinking more of Mary because she was the mother, and here is Christina thinking of Christ, the Son the one who is wounded. Her focus reminds and reassures me of the good life available to my son who will suffer, but whose life is not diminished by his suffering or his differences.
Lessons in Suffering
So often we stand apart from suffering, from the disabled, or as Chase refers to herself, the crippled. We are all crippled, she reminds us. Being generally able-bodied but pregnant at the time of this reading, one delighting in my ability, it as easy to forget this lesson. It was easy to just want to return to the freedom of it all. Is was easy to be afraid.
Christina showed me the hard truth that the best way, the most joyful way, just might be the hardest way.
God made us human. And to be human is to be limited. And to be limited, here and now is to be wanting. And to be wanting is to be seeking. To be seeking is to be willing. To be willing is to be open. To be opened is to be awed. To be odd is to be redeemed. To be redeemed is to be fulfilled. To be fulfilled is to be full of divine love. To be full of divine love is to be joyful.
Chase is a poet in the truest sense. Her words throughout the book ring deeply through my heart and echo in the world around me. In a society that emphasizes diversity and giving voice to those so often pushed to the periphery of society, this a book the world needs.
Rejecting the overdone victim-oppressor narrative, Chase offers us a vulnerable glimpse into her own life, and by doing that, challenges us to look at our own.BIS Reads // It Is Good To Be Here: A Disabled Woman's Reflections on the Sacred Wonder of Being Human #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Kathryn Anne Casey is a Northern Californian wife, mother of five children on earth and three in Heaven, speaker, newspaper reporter, columnist and author of Journey in Love: A Catholic Mother’s Prayers after Prenatal Diagnosis, and the upcoming Peace in Pregnancy: Devotions for the Expectant Mother. She splits her time reading, writing, homeschooling, attending to her son’s medical needs, and shuttling him to appointments at University of California San Francisco while listening to her favorite podcasts. To read more of her writing, click here.
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