At Mass last Sunday, one of the verses in one of the readings stayed with me through most of last week. From Chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel,“…to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
That’s the second part of a reply Jesus gives when He’s asked what the Greatest Commandments are. Over the course of my life, I’ve heard Love your neighbor as yourself countless times. But it wasn’t until last week that I really reflected upon the rest of the verse. As I pondered it, especially the part that says, “…[it] is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices,” I was reminded of a few people.
The people who stuck out the most in my mind were the ones who’ve been in the thick of things just like I’ve been. They are from all walks of life and with varying backgrounds – medical professionals, educators, therapists, counselors, homemakers, businessmen, and businesswomen. Not only is our background completely different, so is our political thinking and so are our religious beliefs. Despite that, we share so many similarities. That’s because autism and vaccine injury do not discriminate. They, too have a child with regressive autism. These other parents have experienced the same emotions that came with that diagnosis like I have. They’ve made as many sacrifices as well.
Since Ronan got sick over a decade ago, I’ve met other people, too. Also from all walks of life and with varying backgrounds, I’ve met people who've been sympathetic when I share the story of how drastically life changed for my son post-vaccination. I appreciated that they at least offered to listen. Several took what they heard me share as a warning. Others didn’t. They used it against my character. That’s only happened a few times face-to-face, but some people I’ve “met” online have been less open-minded and courteous with their replies. They’ve been judgmental and downright rude when I offered the details of how my healthy child started to lose skills after a round of shots. Saying that I don’t know what I’m talking about or that I’m just one of those anti-vax ‘crazy mothers’, they left conversation angry at me instead of enlightened. It isn’t very neighborly of them, but I don’t mind being called a crazy mother. Crazy mothers get things done. They start schools, they write books, they help pass state bills, they donate their time, and they go to Congress to speak up.
The new generation of crazy mothers, the younger mamas, have taken to speaking up by taking to the airwaves via podcasts, Facebook live, Periscope, and YouTube. I’m not saying that I know of any veteran moms haven’t, because they have done that also, but I couldn't have asked for better new recruits to fall in with us. These moms are calling our representatives out. They’re confidently calling out industry leaders, too. (My favorite from that clip is Hillary’s comment. Start at minute 8:20. If you’ve been at this as long as I have, I think you will not be disappointed in what she has to say.)
At the end of the day, no matter who we are though–black, white, man, woman, child, elderly, abled, or disabled, when we speak up, we’re still called to respect one another. That includes respecting each other’s views, even if they are completely different views. You’d think that people wouldn’t need to be reminded of that, but with as many social media platforms we now constantly have at our fingertips, respect is not always something being offered in typed responses.
When I was a kid, if you and your neighbor had opposing views, civil conversations were able to be conducted. Sure, terse words could’ve been shared and tempers could’ve flared. But afterward, even when views and minds were unchanged, neighbors could still be neighborly toward each other. Agree to disagree, they’d say. People lived by that. Some still do which goes along with another saying: it costs nothing to be polite. These days, some people don’t seem to have the integrity to display the honorable trait of politeness anymore. It’s too bad because we’re talking about the same thing – autism and vaccines. It’s just that our side of the story, one fueled by the love we have for our child, is just too much for some people to handle.
Our story is simple. Vaccines contributed to our child’s autism, but it’s too much for those who are paid to say the complete opposite of what we parents know to be true. When it comes to talking about vaccines and autism, conversations among strangers can be less than polite. Pre-internet days, when it wasn't as easy to lob insults from one’s computer screen to another’s, we were told to walk away when things got heated. These days, if you speak up, reputations are tarnished and careers ruined. Seeing negative comments from pro-vaccine groups on line last week reminded me of that verse I heard last Sunday. I had the opportunity to chime in and to set people straight. I had a pithy comment ready to post. But I held back. As sad and disappointed that I was to see how unkind one group can be toward another, I kept that verse close to my heart all week and channeled my thoughts elsewhere. Love thy neighbor…even when I don’t want to…because doing so is worth more than I can possibly imagine.
The sacrifices I’ve made are great. That’s because my kids are my greatest responsibility, and it takes hard work to get them what I think that they need. To guide, to teach, to protect, and to prepare them. It’s my job to do all of that. And since it’s my life calling to be their mom, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure my kids are well taken care of. I know I’m not the only parent who feels that way. Many do, including parents of typically developing children. We pray for the best. We work through adversity. We prepare mentally for whatever life throws us always hoping that things will go smoothly.
As parents, we are our children’s first teacher. Even so, many of us went into parenthood blindly. Parenting books can be helpful, so can listening to other people’s advice, but we don’t know how we’re going to respond to a situation until we’re actually in that situation. Some parents will incorporate their interpretation of “give the child the world” as a guide. Others may have used previous experience to influence their choices. However a parent gets their child from one stage of life to the next, their common goal is usually to get them to independence. Unfortunately, that won’t happen for some of our kids. That may never happen for mine, my child who was vaccine injured.
Living on his own as an independent adult - it’s a far-reaching milestone for my son. The older he gets and the older I get, I realize that more and more. It can be an unsettling thought wondering how he will fare if my husband and I are no long able to care for him physically. That’s why I look at others and how they treat their neighbors. Is it with respect? Is it with kindness in their hearts? Do they feel burdened or blessed by those already in their care? If Ronan is added to the mix, could they take on all that he needs? Could they do that with grace, love, and respect? It’s a lot to think about.
Time will tell what kind of care Ronan will need in the future. I pray that we remain fully prepared and capable for as long as possible. If we can’t, I pray that we can rely on those nearest to us. We’ve been blessed with close family who understands our intense needs. We’ve been blessed with friends also who have faithfully followed Jesus’ simple commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. They do that naturally. They do it because they love unconditionally. They do it because they know to love their neighbor as they do is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices they could ever offer. What a gift it is to love and help others without expecting anything in return.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.