The story stuck in my mind. It seems a young couple always wanted to visit Italy. They made reservations, bought guide books, learned a little Italian. Finally the long anticipated day arrived and their plane landed at at the airport. In Holland!!! “But this wasn’t our plan,” they cry! “We weren’t prepared for this!”

They cannot go back so they buy new guide books, struggle with a new language, meet new people. It is not what they had expected at all. They look around and eventually find that Holland has its own beauty–-tulips, Rembrandts, windmills. But they still wish they had landed in Italy.

This story, which I have shortened and paraphrased, may be found on the website of the National Down’s Syndrome Society. It is meant to bring home the shock, the sea change, the paradigm shift, that occurs when a couple looking forward to the birth of a long-awaited baby finds the child is not what they had ordered and expected. Their baby has Down’s Syndrome. There is a whole new territory that they must explore, another language to learn. They will meet new people and gain new insights.

Another story called The Cracked Water Jar came via e-mail from my brother-in-law. It seems a water jar had a long hairline crack so that when it was filled to the brim with water and carried to the house half the water had leaked through the crack by  the time it got there. Nevertheless, the servant used it daily along with another jar that didn’t leak at all. The cracked jar became very depressed when it realized it was only capable of delivering half as much water as the perfect jar.

The servant comforted the jar, saying it had nothing to be ashamed of and had done the best it could. “And, look,” he said, “I always carried you on the right side walking back to the house, and the other jar on the left. See the path? On the right there are beautiful flowers all along the path but on the left nothing is growing–it has been too dry this summer.”

A third communication was a variation on the same theme. A friend sent me a manuscript, asking for my opinion. In it God is speaking, lamenting the deaths of babies through abortion. He is saying “Where are my boys who would be boys? Where are my tender little girls? Where are my errant ones, my few psychotic ones who also have the right to draw breath, my unborn who you knew would be defective and you therefore killed?”

Testimony after testimony of the parents of children with Down’s syndrome or spina bifida, for example, even parents of children with a guaranteed (short of a miracle) very limited life-span, speak of the lessons learned, the virtues acquired,  and, yes, the blessings that these children brought into their lives. The parents might not have chosen to be so tried and tested, but, with the help of God, their “broken” children left flowers in their wake.

A change in perspective can be an unwelcome thing, an unsettling thing….but also a valuable thing. How can we decide that in the eternal scheme of things a defective person or defective pot has no value?

Geneticist Jerome Lejeune, who discovered the chromosome anomaly that causes Down’s syndrome, relates a bit of history. Years ago, in Austria, a boy and a girl were born on the same day. The boy was a fine healthy specimen; the girl obviously had Down’s syndrome. Time went on, the children grew up, and eventually the girl’s mother suffered a stroke. It was her defective daughter who was at her side, day in and day out, caring for her. The baby boy turned out to be Adolf Hitler!

We all have heard of other “cracked pots” that left flowers in their wake: Most lead quiet, unsung lives. Some are awesome, like Mattie Stepanek, a child poet with severe crippling muscular dystrophy, who composed his first poems at the age of three and had two published books of his Heartsongs at the age of 11. Joni Eareckson Tada, quadriplegic author and artist, writes of her spiritual growth over many years of being paralyzed from the neck down, and amazes everyone with the beautiful pastel drawings she does holding the pencils in her teeth.

There are those who would nip in the bud such inspiring and courageous human beings. Flawed? Yes. Burdensome? Yes. But valuable? Definitely! No less inspiring is the tenderness and compassion–-the just plain caring-–lavished upon these imperfect humans by their caregivers. Sometimes these caregivers even report finding joy in doing the hard work of love.

So it is that a website story, a few lines from one friend and an e-mail from another all sort of marinated together to cause reflection and widen understanding.They invited me to listen for the music God can coax from the flawed instrument, to look for the rainbow as his light shines through the shattered glass.

We can begin to believe folk wisdom when it tells us that dark clouds may turn out to have silver linings. We can begin to expect the unexpected from God. Love will find a way. When we tap into love, when we try to “let go and let God,” we can begin to appreciate that we have the best of all mottoes: In God We Trust.

A baby is born. Any baby is a bundle of possibilities. Every baby is an invitation to love. There may be joy to be found – even in Holland!

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SIDEBAR:

After much facial surgery, tracheostomy, tubes, etc., the father of a handicapped child was moved to say to his wife: “You know, it could have been a lot worse.” And she answered, immediately, instinctively, out of a love that looks through pain and grief. “Yes, it could have been much worse. We could have not had him at all.” Newsweek March 16 1987, by Jerry Adler.