‘From a Time of Ambiguity’: ‘On Brittain’ (Entry Three)

Blake and Julia Schwarz stand next to the brand new, white crib, staring at their beautiful baby boy, Brittain. They gaze into his blue eyes and run their fingers through his soft, blonde hair. They suffer through sleepless nights, waking up to a screaming child. They attend to the infant’s every need, feeding him, changing his diaper, rocking him to sleep. Despite sleep deprivation, the Schwarz family abounds in joy. However, five months after Brittain’s birth, they go for a check-up for the newborn. The couple, with child in hand, strolls through the almost-too-white hallways of the hospital. They hear a moaning old man suffering from Huntington’s disease; they see a woman who just recently collided her vehicle into another, blood oozing from gashes covering her body. They cannot help but feel disheartened, but they continue to their doctor’s office. They enter through the threshold, ready to make sure they are providing the baby the appropriate nutrients, hopefully feeding Brittain the best food for his health. Nutrients were the least of their worries. The doctor kindly and unsteadily reveals that Brittain has Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetic defect that prevents the subject from developing muscles. The main muscles that are affected are located either at the joints connecting limbs to the body, or near the lungs. Blake and Julia find this out, and their souls sink. Their doctor tells them that their five-month-old baby only has about half a year left to live. This affliction indicated that Blake and Julia both possessed the recessive gene for this disease. This meant that there would always be a chance for their possible future children to possess this defect. The young couple went home and thought about options of what they could do in this situation. The research in curing this disease is extremely primitive and usually involves embryonic stem cells, which presented Blake and Julia with a moral dilemma: should they stop another [frozen embryonic] baby from living in order to obtain stem cells for the purpose of building muscle in their own child? They made the decision not to do so, but did as much as possible to help Brittain during his last months, hoping for a miracle, but living with the reality that their son would die. Over the next months, these two watched their son slowly but surely decay. His muscles were unable to develop with his growth. They pictured in their heads the image of their child loosing the ability to breath. It pains me to think about a baby struggling to inhale.

They take yet another trip to the doctor’s office, their noses filled with the piercing stench of isopropyl alcohol. They sit in the chairs of the doctor’s office, anxiously fidgeting with items on the desk. The doctor walks in, sits down and looks into the eyes of the couple. He tells them that Brittain has two more days to live.

Despite this horrible occurrence, the Schwarz’s dealt with their baby’s death in a manner that surprised almost everyone. They found peace in the event, spending their last twenty-four hours playing with their son. For he would only be with them for so much longer. They rejoiced in having the gift of having their son, even if it was only for eleven or twelve months. Of course, Blake and Julia mourned their son’s death, and still miss him now. However, they did not let this tragedy infringe on their lives and their ability to find love in the world, whether it be with each other, with friends and family, or with their healthy, young daughter, Margaret, born two years later.

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Blake was my theology professor in high school. Professor Schwarz, as I called him and still call him despite my high school graduation, has changed my life exponentially for the better. I attended a private, classical, Christian school called The Cambridge School of Dallas, where he taught. Renting out part of an old non-denominational church building, Cambridge housed ninety students from sixth to twelfth grade. I had a graduating class of fourteen. While this may sound torturous, and at times it was, I owe my life to this school and those in it, especially Professor Schwarz. At first, I despised my time at Cambridge, having considered departing from the place entirely on three separate occasions. I disliked the miniscule class size, only having one other male in the grade until my third year attending. I disliked the amount of homework and classwork assigned to us, restricting us from having anything remotely close to a social life. I disliked how much I knew each person, knowing more putrid qualities in each acquaintance than virtuous aspects of their character. I disliked how much the teachers expected of us, requiring us to do a total of three to five hours of homework each night by sophomore year. All of this seemed ridiculous to me, as well as my peers. As if this wasn’t enough to evoke anger inside me, anxiety constricted my mind and distorted my view on life my sophomore, junior, and senior years. My doctor diagnosed me with clinical anxiety by the summer separating my sophomore and junior years. During this time, I struggled with mental and emotional issues, not to mention dealing with medication, therapy, and, sometimes, ridicule. Overall, I couldn’t wait to escape this dismal abyss.

Starting my second semester of my final year at the school, with my psychiatrist encouraging me to start on medication yet again, my emotional well being started to turn around. Not only this, but my intellectual and spiritual well being improved dramatically. I started to invest myself in my studies, or at least some of them. I began to delve into the literature we read in English class. In reading Othello by William Shakespeare, I intently watched Othello, refuted the pungent Iago, and doted upon the beautiful Desdemona. I began to find joy, something I seemed unable to do in years past. In reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I absorbed myself in the anxiety of Raskolnikov, the main character of the novel, indirectly and miraculously finding a cure for my own anxiety. This novel healed me because I got out of the way long enough to focus on the hurts, needs, and aspirations of someone from a different time and place, someone, it turns out, who made me realize that I am not alone in my struggle to be free of crippling anxiety. I was able to see with Raskolnikov’s eyes, to imagine with his imagination, and to feel with his heart. Just as Raskolnikov had the Godly love of the good-hearted prostitute, Sonya, I had the same type of love given to me by friends and mentors, including Blake Schwarz. If this man had failed to walk into my life, I doubt I would have much mental stability or emotional comfort at all.

Professor Schwarz would sit with me for hours talking with me, whether it be about my anxiety, the Christian life, or even his son Brittain. In spending several hours a week with this man, we grew close together, and I learned of his son’s ailment. I only physically “met” young Brittain once, maybe twice, but his death has had a deep impact on me. I, in becoming so close with Blake, felt the pain he felt in his son’s death, in portion at least.

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O! Crying infant from the womb

            You came, and five months passéd by

            ‘Till Death announ’d: Brittain would die.

The Shadow enters all too soon.

——–

Tear upon tear fall down the face

            Of Blake and Julia; they weep.

            A simple solution they seek.

Yet, time allows vision of grace.

 

Brittain, a gift of God bestow’d

            Upon man and wife, giving love.

            The day will come, when like a dove,

His soul ascend, body below.

 

Rejoice is found in time remain’d,

            A joy found in each smile and grin.

            Some might say Death obtains the win,

But Death, cloak’d in black, naught has gain’d.

——–

Appeared before them was a man

            Saying, ‘Why bring a child to Earth

            When Pain is all I’ve known since birth?

This child to die just like a lamb.’

 

Response is delivered to him,

            ‘Pain exists, but joy outweighs it.

            I see my son, inward joy sits.

You see him and look to be grim.’

 

One sees pain, the other sees all.

            I know more than pain, I confide.

            ‘Tis better to have lived and died

Than never to have lived at all.[1]

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Blake helped me see, through bringing me out of that dark void of anxiety, that there is joy in life. I had been so alone and mad at the world, and he helped show me the way to find light even in the darkest place I had ever been. I was never suicidal, but if you had asked me during that time of my life, whether it was worth it to live, I’m afraid my answer would not have been affirmative. On the other side of anxiety, I now see, despite massive amounts of pain, that living, existing, is in and of itself a good thing. It is, in fact better, to exist than not to exist.

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Blake and Julia cherished their son’s life, and wished nothing but health for him. They found a way to obtain comfort and joy, in spite of their boy’s death. Meanwhile, parents all over America, and even all over the world, are opting to terminate that which Blake and Julia treasured so. Abortions are all too common now. Woman after woman walk into abortion clinics to have the child removed from their wombs. Man after man demands that their lover “get rid of that mistake!”

Given that I am male, I don’t have personal experience in the matter of pregnancy or abortions, as far as being the patient. However, I do not see how one could choose against someone else’s existence. I understand that pregnancy is not extremely enjoyable; childbirth is even worse. I understand that some women are raped, and that sometimes even girls as young as fifteen find themselves carrying a child. I understand that some are not ready for parenthood. However, I don’t think any of these reasons give anyone the right to choose whether another ought to live or not, to exist or not. Does any human have the moral ability to decide whether another exists or not? I feel the greatest sympathy for those women who are raped, for those young teenagers who made one mistake, for those that are terrified of parenthood. Do they not know what they are doing? They are deciding someone else’s existence, or in their case, non-existence. Some claim that they do not want to bring their child into this horrible, pain-ridden world. Is there no joy? Suffering, evil, and pain all exist, but do they exist without any redemption? Bringing a child into this world does not condemn them to suffering. Bringing a child into this word, allows them to experience joy, to experience pain, and learn and grow from that suffering. I have experienced pain. I have marched through the swamp of suffering. I have fought with the wind of sorrow. Through this, I have found the importance and the joy in life. I understand that some might not consider a fetus to possess personhood, but who am I, or any other person to decide whether someone has the chance to experience devastation, as well joy, immense amounts of hurt, as well as love?

______________________________________________________________

[1] An original poem entitle ‘In Memoriam N. B. S.,’ modeled after Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam A. H. H.’ I use the same form as he does. He used four lines of iambic tetrameter for each stanza and the poem consists of 133 Cantos, or sections. I represented this by doing three sections of 1 stanza, 3 stanzas, and 3 stanzas. He mourns the death of his best friend, and I am mourning the death of my close mentor’s child.

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