I didn’t believe my son’s brain damage was permanent when it happened. I was sure the right doctor would cure him. I thought the problem had a yes or no answer. This definition had consequences, the biggest one being that it simply didn’t work.
My question, “Can we fix him?” was met with a firm, “no.” The process was a complicated parade of caregiving, hospitals, insurance forms and medical bills.
In the midst of this, I attended a silent retreat at the local Benedictine monastery. I wasn’t a likely candidate, as I spent most of my time trying not to think. Spending 24 hours alone scared me, yet I felt a pull to go, to settle my perspective.
I drove to St. Paul in a snowstorm, inching my way through rush-hour traffic. I checked in after dinner and was led to my room. The single bed, desk and rocking chair reminded me of my college dorm. On the bed I found a notebook and flipped through the open pages.
My brain was noisy. The room was not.
The group met in the chapel soon after I arrived and we spent half an hour in meditation. I liked everything about the silence – except the quiet.
I gazed out the window to the parking lot on my way back to my room. Snow lined the edges of a dumpster and tapped against the windowpane. I lay on the bed. The blankets were scratchy, but I lay there anyway. I missed human contact.
At 8:00 I had a brief session with the spiritual director in her office behind the chapel. We looked at each other for a long time. Her face was wrinkled and soft. It was my chance to speak, but it felt like I’d forgotten every word of the English language. Finally, I began.
I told her about the past years, and that despite the drugs, hospitals and specialists, my son still wasn’t cured.
“Maybe there is another way to look at it,” she said.
“Nothing we’ve tried works,” I repeated. She clearly wasn’t getting it.
“Perhaps the goal is healing, not curing.”
That was all.
We sat for another five minutes before I went back to my room.
I’ve thought of her words often, both for my son and for myself. I realized then, and I still think today, how important it is that we ask the right questions during hard times.
Our natural impulse is to search for the answers that get us back to how things were. We don’t take into account that the pieces of that life may not fit together again. Healing means finding our center even when the pieces don’t fit.
This process occurs when we use our setbacks as vehicles for deeper meaning. Shifting from asking why something happened to what we can learn from it immediately opens possibility.
Observing the ways that challenges connect us to other people deepens our experience of this thing called life.
Here’s one last secret: The healing my son experienced extended to the rest of us. When faced with my own struggles years later, struggles with no cure, Porter’s healing gave me a road map back to peace.