This Monday is June 15th. It was 43 years ago that I found myself experiencing a paradox that has shaped my faith since then.
Molly— I was her chaplain at the Enid State School. At that point in history what was “normal” seems crude at best and inhuman at worst. She was one of 1000 residents who were “placed” in an institution. It’s official name was— and I share this to remind us how ignorance haunts us— “The Enid State School for the Mentally Retarded”. She was a ‘ward of the state’. She was born with spina bifida and was raised in public institutions. Molly was really a delightful young teen who pretty much won the hearts of the whole campus. Everyone knew Molly. She negotiated her wheel chair all over the campus. She was a ‘star’ at The Chapel where I led a team five seminary students. As chaplains, we were given carte blanch support from the superintendent to be creative advocates for all of the residents.
Molly got sick in April. It was a mystery to the medical staff. One courageous social worker decided to try to find her family. They were found, and seven of them came 200 miles to meet their daughter, and sister. I was given the task to be in her hospital room when the reunion took place. It was a very beautiful and bittersweet moment. “We were told by the doctor when she was born to pretend she never existed”. They spent every day for two weeks with her as she slipped into unconsciousness. However, she shared the joy of a few days of being with her family.
On June 15 my son Mateo was born at a hospital three blocks from where Molly had slipped into a coma. That morning I held this most amazing 8 pound 10 ounce boy. I cried with joy. Then I went those three blocks to pray with a family who circled the bed where a 15 year old girl was living her last day. Afterward I headed to my office at ESS.
It was early afternoon and I sat by my desk trying to grasp life and death. I heard the door to the chapel open. The sound of braces dragging across the floor and down the concrete steps meant it was “Sparky” (Albert) who came by every day to inquire about his friend Molly. I dreaded the conversation. Sparky had CP. He was another resident who had no business being in an institution. He was bright but his body struggled to
do what I took for granted. He crawled on the couch in my office and he asked “Hoooowwwwwssssss Mollllllllllyyy”? I looked him straight in the eye. “Sparky, she’s not going to make it”. He looked at me and spoke these words “Theeeeerrrrrreeeee iiiissssss aaaallllwwwwaaaayyyysss hhhhhoooooppppeee”. Silence was all I could offer. We went up the stairs together, Sparky would never allow me to help. He got in his wheelchair and I said “Thanks Sparky, for being Molly’s friend”. He smiled.
Today I know it is still true—hope in the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest, and political chaos is hard to find, yet it keeps me going. Happy Birthday Mateo!!!
Onward and Upward Mark