Dr. Wang turns to me. “Do you have any questions?” “Just one. For the past few summers, we’ve rented a cottage in Georgian Bay, a couple of hours north of Toronto. It’s a very remote place, very quiet. An island, no one around but us. Walker seems to love it. It changes him, calms him. It means a lot to me, that place, and how it changes him. Will I ever be able to explain all that to him?” Dr. Wang shakes his head. “Not rationally, probably not. But” — he stops, thinks — “it sounds like he already understands it.” Another pause. “The Buddhists say the way to enlightenment, to pure being, is by getting your mind out of the way. I’m not trying to be trite, but Walker already knows how to do that. He is pure being. He may be developmentally delayed, or moderately retarded, but in that way, he’s already miles ahead of most of us.” This is the first time someone suggests Walker may have a gift the rest of us don’t. On my desk at work is a picture of Hayley reading to Walker. This was up north, on the quiet island. They are lying side by side on a bed, and Walker is looking up at the book in Hayley’s hands, as if riveted by every word. I’ll never know if he understood a syllable. But he can hear her voice, is thrilled to be with her and clearly grasps his smart big sister’s affection. He has become the moment and it has become him, because he has nothing else to be. Walker is an experiment in human life lived in the rare atmosphere of the continuous present. Very few can survive there.
The problem, Dr. Blumberg said, lies in our unwillingness to accept that a handicapped life has real value, especially if the value is subtle and hard to quantify. “Families often do find raising a handicapped child a gift, despite the hardship,” he said. “It creates new relationships, reveals new capabilities. The trick is to give up the idea of the potential child and accept the actual child.” Dr. Blumberg is familiar with medical catastrophe. He was blinded in one eye as a boy while helping his father spread fertilizer. He went on to become a doctor via some of the best universities in the world. “It’s arrogant of us to assume that these states are inferior to the normal state,” he said. “If you have an IQ of 60, that’s a serious handicap in our society. But if you’re a migrant farm worker, it might be fine, plenty. So who is to say that the state of non-verbal rapture you describe in your son — who is to say that that is inferior? Who is to say that? We’re arrogant enough to believe that sentience is all that counts. It’s not all that counts. A sequoia is not a sentient being. But they count. There is nothing more magnificent. It doesn’t require me to think about it to be in awe of it. I don’t want to minimize the difficulty of raising a handicapped child. It says something about the place we have reached as a society that doing so creates a serious handicap in these contexts. But it’s just a mistake to think of them as lesser than. There’s no lesser than. There’s just different from. It isn’t just great minds that matter. It’s great spirits too.”
— Ian Brown, in The Globe and Mail