In the fall of 2008 my youngest son went to an orthopedic surgeon seeking some answers to recurring lower back pain. At the time, he was fully involved in fall baseball practice at his high school, working hard and looking forward to a great spring season. But his back was not cooperating at all.
After a routine bone scan to try to find some answers, the physician’s assistant came into the examining room with a very concerned look on her face. She told William that the doctor would meet with him in a moment. He entered soon after, stood near William who sat on the exam table, and said very quietly, “Son, we found a mass, some kind of tumor, on your spinal cord. I don’t know what it is. I can’t tell you whether it’s benign or malignant.”
At that point, he placed his face very close to William with his hands on his shoulders and said, “I promise you that we will not leave you in this and will do whatever we need to do to help you. I’ll get you to the person who knows more than I do as soon as possible.”
He soon left the room and made some calls, came back and said his colleague, a well-known neurosurgeon, “will wait for you and your Mom to get to his office. I’ll send the information over to him now.”
The neurosurgeon was kind enough to wait after office hours had ended to see William. He took a look at the scan and sat with William and Sonya to consult with them. He told them that the mass was located in such a place on the spinal cord that he did not feel comfortable or competent to do the surgery, and he would definitely need surgery. He then told William that he would find someone who could help. We would have to be willing to go wherever we needed to go, wherever the specialist was who could help.
The next day, he called, letting us know that he had found the specialist in Nashville, one who practiced this specific form of surgery. We were deeply grateful that the surgeon was only thirty miles away. One month later William entered surgery in the hands of the specialist who said that he didn’t know what the results would be. He would do his best at applying all the skills he had, but we would all have to wait to find out.
Of course, we were frightened, in great need, praying and hoping for William’s return to normal life and the future he had hoped for. I remember after the surgery, the surgeon said, “It went as well as it could possibly go. The tumor is benign, peeled off of the spinal cord beautifully.” We would now have to wait for the healing and the outcomes of returning to a fully functioning life.
William was in the hospital for fives days, in great pain, and yet healing. That spring he was able to return to his baseball towards the end of the season. Better, though, he was able to return to what we think of as normal life. He even went on to play college baseball.
Here is the point of this story that goes with the title that praises the blind, the crippled, the practicing, and the beggars.
It really is in praise of humility, the ability to admit need, admit limitation, admit the healthy shame that lets us all be in need, ask for help with each other, and face that we live as works in progress. This writing is about greatness that is found in humility and the courage of living in that humility.
The first doctor said I’m blind when it comes to this problem. The second doctor said I’m crippled when it comes to this problem. The third doctor said I’m practicing when it comes to this problem. William said I’m the beggar. We, the parents, said we are the beggars; we have no help unless you others can help with this problem called pain and living.
We, all of us, are blind, crippled, practicing, and beggars in this life. I speak of doctors because so often they and we expect, even demand, that they be perfect and save us from this life and its inevitable pains. They can’t. Our demand for perfection is how we run from the fear of living. Our seeking perfection is the image of God within us that hungers for total peace and completion.
The best we ever become begins in our admission of need—even for doctors. Give me those who can admit they are in need, the blind, the crippled, the practicing, the beggars. They are the people I can trust. Those who have the humility and courage to admit their limitations and need are the ones who never forget that we are all children in this life. They grow up to never forget that we are all in need. If we can live this humility, we all become great grownups. We can become grownups who can have the compassion that comes from knowing how much we all sail in the same ship upon the vast ocean of this life.