A few weeks ago, we attended a friend’s wedding and had some time before the reception began. We drove by a park that I knew like the back of my hand. It was a place that only we knew, though it looked different now. It was a place where, on that warm and humid June evening more than three decades ago, my soul mate (Jan) and I swayed on those park swings. Planning our future together, forever. A future that would be filled with happiness. A connection, a bond unlike any other was born that night, one that filled us with a deep sense of peace and made us complete.
Gazing out at that park this time, those swings no longer standing, it struck me that the season of summer has often represented well-defined inflection points in my life. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I was born in June.
Some of those inflection points have been the worst of the worst. Some have been along whole new dimensions while some have been over-the-top joyful. But all have been life changing, without question. It’s as if I’m being steered towards some mystery destination, along some less-travelled path, and that every summer I’m in need of a course correction.
Five years after that June evening in the park, we professed our commitment before God to be forever true to one another. Six years more, also in June, our third child (Ben) came along. His arrival symbolized a fork in the road that no one would have ever expected. An hour after his birth, a neonatologist told us that he was very sick, and that he may not live the day. Learning that “Ben may never walk, talk, or go to school” instantly shattered our dreams and wiped out any optimism for a fulfilling life. The indestructible bond that was born under those park swings was crumbling before me. In the years that followed, seizures, surgeries, and panic rushes to the ER became our life, and Ben’s.
Fast-forward 15 years to the summer before Ben’s entry into high school (yes, he did attend school), and a home accident fractured his right femur, placing him in a hip spica cast for 8 weeks. Days later, I was diagnosed with stage-2 colorectal cancer even though there was no family history of the disease. Ben eventually healed but my 9 months of treatment would change me and my body for life.
The next summer, Jan and I found a way to take our first-ever vacation together, 2,000 miles from home. We never had the courage to leave the city together but somehow we found the energy to line up round-the-clock caregivers for Ben, and trusted our gut that everything would be OK.
Five more summers took us to a grand stage with nearly 300 Grade-12 students, all dressed in red satin robes, assembled for their graduation ceremony. An hour into the ceremony, the announcement came: “The first diploma we will present tonight is Benjamin Michael George, graduating class of 2013.”
As those words were spoken, Ben slowly made his way across the stage to receive his high school diploma. He brought the house down as 1,500 people jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering. It was a magical moment for us, one that we had dreamt about for years, a result of our obsession to unleash the smart, social, loving Ben and the wondrous support of all those who believed in him. It was a moment of sheer peace for me, a feeling I had experienced only once before, where I truly felt closer to God. It was a feeling that the whole world could fall down and everything would still be alright.
This summer’s chapter is still being written but it will include an entry about starting Ben on a new med to eliminate the seizures that have returned after a four-year hiatus. Despite my disdain and anxiety of seizures, I am uncharacteristically confident about going down this path. Twenty-three years into our journey with Ben, I’m feeling like we’re not alone.
Walking by faith is the only way we’ve been led this far. It has given me the ability to see the beauty of the journey and to honour the struggle.