The Tao of Raising Kristoffer

Even if we’ve never read the Tao Te Ching, we’re familiar with the Yin-Yang symbol, a symmetrical interlocking of dark and light. It’s a summary of one of Lao Tzu’s fundamental principles: life is a totality in which disparate parts are necessary for wholeness, for the dance that makes life precious. Night and day, birth and death, male and female, summer and winter – all opposites sharpen and highlight each other in infinite interplay.

My profession places me in the nexus of daily contrasts. There have been poignant 24-hour periods when I performed a Holy Trifecta: a baptism, wedding, and funeral. It sharpened my appreciation of life in all its fullness!

Lately I’ve become acutely aware that parenting a special needs child is an emotional Yin-Yang. It’s hard to describe: a combination of grief and joy, denial and acceptance, fear and courage.

My son, Kristoffer, is now 17. He is learning to shave. He graduates from High School this year. He attended his first school dance. I’ve had ample time to adjust to our life together.

But still, there are many days when his disability pierces my heart. I see his uncomprehending stare. I see his inability to accomplish tasks as simple as making change for a dollar. I watch him struggle to read at elementary levels. I notice the pitying glances from others as they view him in public.

All this exhumes feelings that stem back to his birth and diagnosis. It was a death experience as Donna and I began adjusting to a future in which our son would never have the same opportunities as others.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but I think of my paternal grandmother. She had six sons and one daughter. The daughter, Mary Ann, died at age two from severe Scarlet Fever. Even in her 80s, when Grandma remembered her baby girl, tears would flow freely.

Some sorrows you just live with; they are like a stone caught in the gnarled roots of a cypress, a sharp grain in the oyster’s soft flesh, the phantom pain of a lost limb.

Yet my pain is set against such great contrast. Kristoffer has brought us so much joy! His spontaneous displays of affection, his kisses planted on our cheeks, his innocent grasp of life’s simple pleasures – all these are priceless. He has been an unintentional guru in our home, teaching us patience and the supreme value of each human being.

Will this interlocking of emotions, this sometimes daily tension, ever dissipate? I don’t think so. Honestly, I don’t want it to. I believe both our wounds and our strengths give us our power. As the late Henri Nouwen once said, “We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’”

Today, I embrace the Tao of raising Kristoffer.

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