When I saw The Passion of the Christ, the moment that affected me the most was Mary trying to get to Jesus as he labored under the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. A disciple led her through the back streets past the crowds to her son and the whole time I’m thinking, what will she say when she gets to him? What could anyone say to someone who is suffering so much, who is so seemingly without hope? When she finally reaches him she says the perfect thing–the words any child wants to hear from his mother, “I’m here.”
It was so moving because it was so right. Director Mel Gibson imagined this meeting, the dialogue. But how precise.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately–I’m writing this on Good Friday. Watching Terri Schiavo’s tragedy unfold in front of the world, I think of the videotape where her mom moves her daughter’s head to be able to look into her face and suddenly Terri’s eyes brighten and she seems to smile. Her mother, Mary Schindler, is there saying, “I’m here.”
What else is a mother to do? Some say Terri is not cognizant of anything going on around her and that her expressions are just reflexes. Tell that to any mom whose baby smiles for the first time and hears from the “sage” onlooker, “It’s just gas, babies can’t smile.” Baloney. Mothers know differently. Now with the super-level sonograms, we even see photos of babies smiling in the womb. We’ve seen the famous photo of the baby, being operated on in utero, reaching out of its mother’s womb to grasp the doctor’s gloved finger. A need for human contact or just a reflex? Humans, in all stages of development, display their natural yearning for a human touch, a soft word, a smile.
I’ve been married to my husband for 14 years and I trust him implicitly. I trust him with the lives of our children. We named each other as the responsible parties in our wills. We filled out those living wills less than two years ago at the suggestion of our lawyer but I can’t remember what I said. Probably that I would want them to hook me up to as many machines as they could find while they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. If I become that ill, I figure the Lord will take me if He wants me. In any case, the wills are in the filing cabinet if push comes to shove.
So here I am with a written directive and I honestly can’t remember specifically what I directed or what my husband’s wishes are. If Terri Schiavo, as her husband claims, said she wouldn’t want to live that way, I wonder how sure he is. She was in her early twenties at the time of her collapse. If she had written it down, we would have to respect her wishes. And yet, would they have specified something beyond life support, which she was not on, beyond a comatose state, which she was not in?
And if this man had been by her bedside true to his marriage vows for all these years, I might cut him some more slack–but he has moved on and should have been disqualified as her legal guardian years ago because of the flagrant conflict of interest of living with another woman who has given birth to his children.
Her parents on the other hand, have no such barriers to their interest in their daughter’s well being. And they have not been visiting an unconscious person all these years. They have interacted with the disabled person their daughter has become. Being able to touch her, to nurture her, and to get a smile or a sound from her seems to have been enough for the woman and her mom and dad.
Your child is always your child. And the thing that a parent can do for a child as long as they live is to always be able to tell them, “I’m here.”
–Susan Konig, a journalist, is author of the upcoming Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My Children).