During July, 1984, I spent a very enjoyable month as Chaplain to the Nazareth Catholic Family Life Centre. It is run by Don and Posey McPhee at Combermere near Barry’s Bay. Parents with young families come there from different parts of Canada, the United States, and even Australia to spend a week’s vacation – as a family – in a very relaxed, informal and Christian atmosphere. Don and Posey and their five children set the pace and a staff of 20 young people, some of them volunteers, do the chores (including baby-sitting) and leave the parents free to swim or just browse and read.
I first saw Johnny from my bedroom window just after I had arrived. A young man and three boys were throwing a ball to each other out on the lawn. One of the boys seemed to be sitting down but when the ball was thrown to him he dragged himself along the ground after it, picked it up and threw it back. I realized that he was severely handicapped and my first reaction was one of pity. Poor kid! What a life!
Next morning, I met Johnny at breakfast. He was sitting in his wheelchair at the end of a table and beaming at everybody. He couldn’t wait to get breakfast over to go out and play baseball with his Dad, his two brothers and a few friends. Later, I saw him swimming in the lake. As the week wore on it became obvious to everybody that the one thing you didn’t do to Johnny was pity him.
He loved exchanging jokes and wisecracks with everybody. Of a group of lively, noisy and adventurous kids, Johnny was the star. It was not because he was handicapped but because he has a scintillating and attractive personality. He really enjoys life to the full.
I asked his parents if we could have a private chat, as I wanted to know more about this ten-year-old boy who seemed to thrive on what would normally be considered an insurmountable handicap. Jim and Mary Reid, both in their early thirties, were delighted to talk about Johnny. The story is as follows.
After a few years of marriage they had one child, Christopher. They lost their second child before birth, and Mary was told that she could not have any more, so they applied to be foster parents.
After a year, they received a phone call telling them that there was a baby boy available, but that he suffered from Spina Bifida. They went to the home and were introduced to Johnny, who was then two months old. His natural father just didn’t want him and his mother, although she would have accepted him, was not strong enough to oppose her husband.
So, Johnny was rejected by his natural parents. The Reids did not hesitate for a moment. They accepted him as if he were their own, and they told me with tears in their eyes (by then there were a few in mine) that they considered him a tremendous blessing from God. Mary said, “If his parents only knew what they gave up!” A short time after this, Mary became pregnant again, and now they have a younger boy. She is expecting her third child in October.
I asked them how the other children related to Johnny. They said, “He’s just one of us. In fact he is the centre of the family. He both gives and receives love.” After eighteen months of fostering, Johnny was to be “put up for adoption.” The Reids immediately applied to have him, and their request was granted.
How does he do at school? “Johnny is an ‘A’ student and is very popular with his school-mates. He is an ardent fan of the Blue Jays, and never misses a game if he can help it. He is very proud of some pictures of himself shaking hands with some of the Blue Jays stars.
There is nothing wrong with me!
An amusing incident occurred when Johnny was about six years old. A friend of the family who was in the Charismatic movement kept insisting that they should take Johnny to a healing ceremony in the hope that he would be cured. Marry was not too keen, but she agreed, to please her friend.
As they were slowly moving up to the aisle for the blessing Johnny asked, “Where are we going Mom?” Mary explained as best she could and said, “You might be cured.” Johnny said, “Cured of what? There’s nothing wrong with me!” So he returned home, “uncured.”
A terrible thought
One day, as I watched Johnny playing and laughing with his friends, a really terrible thought occurred to me. What if Johnny’s mother has been subjected to amniocentesis? Given their attitude, his natural parents would almost certainly have aborted! Jim and Mary would have been deprived of this “tremendous blessing” and the world would have been denied another ray of sunshine.
The more I meet the Johnnys of this world, the more convinced I become of this fact. There is no such thing as an “unwanted child;” there are only “unwanting parents.”