As I picked up the magazine the pages flopped open, and I quite unexpectedly found myself face to face with the person who will put an end to me.
It was a small picture tucked up in the corner of the page, in the Newsweek magazine. A picture of Melinda Gates, philanthropist and wife of Bill Gates. The caption underneath the picture read;
“Melinda Gates: She Takes Aim At Polio.
Her goal is nothing short of wiping a disease off the planet,
and she is likely to succeed.”.
Unbelievable!! It boggles my mind that a lady and her husband (and a few thousand of their closest friends, medical professionals, scientists, and volunteer’s),…will be ending a disease. Ending a global suffering,…for everybody. A whole world. It is impossible to exaggerate admiration’s for a thing like that.
This is the very best of news of course, which is why I was confused about having somewhat mixed emotions about it. Don’t get me wrong. I am in awe of what Melinda and her team are doing. They’re making history. For all of us. What caught me off guard was realizing that in doing so, in making that history, Melinda will inadvertently make me a small part of history too. She has made me;…….the last of something.
For good or bad, and like it or not, I am now a part, a member, of the last generation of polio. I will be one of the last stories that Polio will ever get to tell.
Warm Springs 1960-61
There were many thoughtful people along the way, who lovingly tried to explain. They told me that it made me special, or that we’re never given more than we can handle. They told me that it was just God’s will, that there is a reason for everything, or that there are some things we can never know until we get to heaven. They were all well intended, but these were answers that would help me cope with polio. Answers that offered a way to endure polio, to get around polio. The understanding I needed was the hardest to come by. How to look her in the eye.
I considered wowing you with the most inspirational story I could think of for this, but I can write those kinds of stories anytime. This is a legacy story. A legacy story for polio, I’ll grant you, but a legacy story none the less. I shouldn’t share something that can be written anytime. I should try to give what I can only write about one time. My legacy story for polio should be to tell what it’s like to take a deep breath, straighten your shoulders, and look her in the eye.
Polio took a lot of chapters,….but the truth is, there was only one real story. That story is, and always has been, the image of polio standing in the path between me and God, and asking one question, over and over again. She asks, “If God really does exist…..”, she pauses and looks at God for a moment, turns back, and continues,” ….and He does. What are you Jay?”.
I have always been amazed that God wrote the entire volume of my existence, out of the tiniest little detail in the story. Believe it or not, having polio was almost insignificant. It is when I had polio that made the most impact. I was eighteen months old. Being so young, I had (nor have) no recollection whatsoever, of “getting” polio. This meant that I never knew polio as something that happened to me. I have only known polio, as being me. Polio was not God’s intent for me,…..it was God’s intent of me. This tiny grain of sand changed the question from, “Why me Lord?”, to, “What am I Lord? What am I?”. With the one, I would live with a sense of being unfairly wronged,……..but with the other, an inescapable sense of just, being wrong.
This idea was reinforced by the fact that there was literally no place on earth that felt like I naturally belonged. The was no sense of, “Welcome, we have been expecting you.”. More often than not it was, “Hello, we were not expecting someone like you but please, we will be more than happy to make arrangements.”. It is a selfless gesture and appreciated, but it does wear you down after a while that you’re a born inconvenience to everyone you meet, and everywhere you may go. I didn’t belong here like this, but arrangements would be made if I wanted to exist.
If “being wrong”, and being on the wrong planet wasn’t enough, I had the added distinction of being “uncorrectable”. I couldn’t be fixed. See, God didn’t make me like this;……He created me like this. To be healed wouldn’t restore me, it would remove me from ever existing. Now I’ve got THAT going for me too. So just to recap the list of things I knew for sure,….I was completely wrong, I didn’t belong here, and I couldn’t be fixed without admitting that I never should have existed in the first place. And all because I was too young to remember getting polio.
I thought that all of that would give me the right to say that I have indeed looked polio right in the eye. It didn’t.
That distinction happened the first time I overheard someone say;….. that I was the reason they couldn’t believe in God. They wanted nothing to do with a God that claims to be all about love, but would unleash such an anger and vengefulness towards an innocent kid. They said that you could talk until you’re blue in the face, but nothing justifies something like that. Not even if you’re God.
After hearing that, I had no choice but to wonder how many people there had been along the way who had shaken their fist at God, rejected Him,…..because of an encounter with me. Not because of something I had done, not because of something I said. It was because I existed. It didn’t matter what else I might be. For some, I made God unforgivable? Now, I was looking her in the eye. Now I understood what polio was all about.
I needed help.
She was an angel, bright and alive. Not only did I hear her speak, but I was disarmed by her comforting, yet heavy southern accent. She told me that her name was Ollee, and that she had come to deliver a message. She spoke clearly and carefully as she began, “Gawd has heard your prayers Jay, and He wants you to know that you’re forgivin’.”. I smiled and told her how comforting that was, but it didn’t help me to understand. I needed to know what I was exactly? Why would God create something like me? Was I just a one in a billion mistake?. She listened intently to every word, and when I had finished she acknowledged me warmly and repeated, “Jay, you’re forgivin’.”.
My frustration boiled over and I snapped at her, “Well I don’t feel very forgiven okay. This isn’t love Ollee. This is what you do to people you hate. This is what you do to severely punish someone. This is a curse Ollee, a vengeance, an anger. This is not what you do to people you forgive. This is not what you do to someone you love..”.
To my surprise, the outburst genuinely upset Ollee. Tears were welling up in her eyes, when a second angel appeared and whispered comforts to her. It was an older woman that exuded assurance. While Ollee gathered herself, the second angel turned to me. Before she could speak, I tried to assure her that I never intended to make an angel cry. I had gotten carried away, and that I was truly sorry if it hurt her. The elder angel paused for a moment as though she were deciding exactly what she should say. Then she kind of smiled and just said, “First day.”. When the confused look didn’t leave my face, she continued with, “What? You thought it was just poof, you’re an angel? It’s her first day. Now sit back and listen.”. While I tried not to laugh at the surprise of what I had just heard, she turned back to Ollee and said, “Ollee, why don’t you tell Jay what made you want to be an angel in the first place.”
A smile broke through the tears, and Ollee began to tell me her story, as though she were living it for the first time. “I was layin’ back and takin’ in the universe one day. It’s infinite vastness. It’s variety and colors, it’s lighted places and its darkened places. I thought about how old it was, how long it was, how high it was, and oh how many stars she holds. It was breathtaking. At some point I wondered to myself what it was gnawin’ at God so much, that it took creating all of this, to get it out of His system?”. Ollee’s accent made every word seem important, and deliberate. She continued, “It was then that I realized that all of this, this entire wonderful universe, wasn’t enough. All of creation wasn’t enough to satisfy God. It wasn’t enough to fully express Himself. God’s desire was to create a perfect expression of everything that He is. everything that he is after existing for an eternity. The universe didn’t do the trick. So, God made a man.”.
Ollee lit up as she shared this notion, but went on with her story, ” I lay there lookin’ at that universe, and wondered if at that same moment, that universe was looking at you, with the same awe and amazement. What was this thing God created, and what was He gonna do with it? There were all kinds of rumors. Some said that He might build an army with them. Some, that He would rule the universe with them. Others, that He was filling a kingdom with them. A creation that great could be used for anything.
I wanted to find out for myself, so I watched. He hadn’t started an army with them yet. He doesn’t rule the universe with them yet, and He hasn’t filled a kingdom with them yet. Maybe in time. What I did see was completely unexpected. What does God do with this perfect creation, this ultimate expression of everything He is? Well best I can tell;…..He just gives “em away.”. Ollee looked at me with a tender heart and said, ” Like I told you Jay. God didn’t make you for gettin’ something;….God made you for-givin’. He made you for givin’ away.”.
At with those words, the dawn broke and the darkness passed from my heart. I knew that no matter how broken I was, no matter how lost and alone I thought I was on this earth. No matter how big of a mistake I was, and no matter how wrong I was for existing;……EVERYTHING changes when you are forgiven. Everything’s different when you know you’re “for-givin'”.
Forgiven for what, you may ask. I was only an eighteen month old child. What had I done so bad, that I needed forgiveness for?
I needed forgiveness more than I needed anything else because;… without forgiveness, love is measured. You didn’t miss that did you? Without forgiveness;….Love is measured.
Without forgiveness, the best I can hope to do, is to salvage something out of my life. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but God never intended to salvage my life;….He intended to save my life. There is only one truth that saves a judged and measured life;…..forgiveness.
You see, forgiveness isn’t so that I know how bad I am or how wrong I am. Forgiveness is so that I can know for sure that the one who loves me, isn’t holding anything back. It’s so that I will know I am getting ALL of God. Not just the measure of Him I think I deserve. I’m forgiven, not because I’m Jay, but because Jesus was Jesus.
And do you know what God did with Jesus? He gave him away.
So what’s God’s plan for me? No more than Christ His Son…..to live my life for-givin’.