My second child was born with club feet in the early 1960’s. As a young, inexperienced mother, I was both fearful and tearful when told the news. But soon my family adjusted to the diagnosis and to the treatment.
Every week I drove him from Hampton, SC to the nearest pediatric orthopedist in Columbia. Most of the trip was fun. My baby would quickly fall asleep to the soothing hum of the car engine and its gentle vibration. I loved the chance to shop in a big city where there were better selections, no matter what was on my list. Once the weekly shopping was done, I quickly found some attractive place to park where I could nurse him, change diapers, and get ready for the physician’s appointment.
Unfortunately, our peace and pleasure both evaporated the second he realized he was in the doctor’s office again. As they began to process of removing last week’s leg casts and gently putting new ones on both legs from the bottom of his toes to just over his knees, he began wailing louder and louder. I’m sure the patients in the waiting room began shifting in their chairs and secretly wondering about their own upcoming appointment.
The orthopedist’s goal was to use casts to keep his legs and feet in a normal position so the bones would gradually adjust to the way they should be, rather than the current bent position that would have meant permanent disability had it not been corrected.
My job was to comfort him so the task would be easier. However, my assistance was always hampered by my own tears as I watched my baby’s pitiful attempts to fight off “the invader.” He couldn’t fathom why the whole world had suddenly turned against him. I cried because I wanted him to know that we were helping him and not wreaking vengeance. But there is just no way to explain to a young baby the absolute necessity of his current suffering.
He and I always left each appointment with tears running down our cheeks. He usually fell asleep as we left the parking lot, exhausted by the battle he’d waged against the enemies who hurt him. And I spent each return trip contemplating the eternal anguish of watching one’s beloved child suffer.
By the next morning, he would again be his cheerful, busy self, exploring every nook and cranny he could reach. Constantly wearing the plaster casts on his legs made them extra strong. Within 24 hours, he’d be clicking his heels together, delighted to make new noises all by himself.
After he began crawling in earnest, the doctor changed the casts for corrective shoes with a bar between them that kept his feet turned outward to continue the healing process. Our trips to Columbia slowed to every two weeks.
Meanwhile his legs grew even stronger because the bar and the corrective shoes weighed more that the casts did. However, for the adults in the family, changing diapers became a defensive battle against the lethal weapon of that bar wielded by a healthy baby with strong legs. Each of us carried bruises from the process for weeks.
As he developed his leg muscles, he kicked harder and harder for the sheer joy of moving. His arms grew stronger too because instead of the usual baby crawl that coordinates the right hand with the left leg and vice versa, he mostly used both arms to pull his body forward. And he quickly improvised fascinating ways to scoot across the floor.
He always resisted each change forced upon him. But after crying until he was too weary to protest any more, he would fall asleep. When he awakened again, he readily experimented with what ever movements he could accomplish.
Would that we adults could also adjust to undesirable circumstances with the same detached elan as a six-month-old. I sometimes think that the Energizer Bunny commercials were inspired by some baby who, like him, cheerfully and energetically adapted to unusual limitations forced upon him.
While my son does not remember any of the trials he endured before his first birthday, I can see how he developed unusual physical strength and a great moral determination as he conquered adversity most babies never face. His finest traits developed without pep talks from coaches, advice from adults, or participation prizes, but merely because he adapted to the situation he faced without demanding to know why it was forced upon him. As his parent, I can easily see how those struggles helped form the man he grew up to be.
When I remember those days, I gain a new appreciation of the last verses of The Canticle of Zachariah (from John 1:78-79) that we repeat with every morning prayer.
In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall
break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
If I can feel frustration and tender compassion because I can’t explain to my baby why we thrust his feet into painful positions and held them there forcibly, surely God also “understands” when we face difficulties. But He promises that the light will shine upon us when we’re in those dark places, even in the shadow of death. Throughout the harsh process, He guides our feet, not our understanding, into the way of peace, if only we go along with Him. Sometimes we understand later and sometimes we don’t. But we do know that He always does it for us, not to us. And we know He guides us “into the way of peace.”
“God wastes nothing. All of our experiences, good and bad, are part of who we are. God is continually forming us and shaping us for the purpose He has given us.”
Deacon Lawrence Klimecki