As an overarching rule, people function using the left sides of their brains.
Right-handed and left-handed alike. It is a center. A hub. It’s how we recognize the difference between the wrong side of a knife and a serving spoon. It’s what allows us to recall the words for glasses, Netflix, and lawn mower. To remember the ages of your wife and five children. To understand how to open the microwave and press the right buttons to heat up your lukewarm coffee. To delineate between a phone charger and computer charger and recollect where you put them both. To string an idea along all the right paths and pass it through your lips where it exits as a logical sentence. To eat with your fork facing in the right direction. To use the calendar on your phone. And type in a password with four numbers at the end.
When this is gone… you have to learn to say goodbye.
It’s difficult because the people you know are largely a product of their brains. You know people by their speech, their gait, their mannerisms, their laughter, their moods, their way of reasoning, their flow of conversation… If this changes, but you know the person is still the same person – well it’s a difficult thing. They have changed. But have they?
It forces you to evaluate words like value and meaning. To attempt to draw straight lines when everything has begun to blur. To understand what gives you worth.
Useless. Incompetent. Meaningless. Insignificant. Inconsequential. Pointless. Futile. Rubbish. Empty. Hollow. Pathetic. Stupid. Wasted. Throwaway. Dying. Dead.
The trail of a thesaurus is a heartbreaking read.
I hear his words. I am heartbroken.
It’s a dirty demented devilish lie. But he believed it. Believed it enough to say it.
How do we love him to the truth? How do we help him take his knife out of the stuffing and guide his hand to the serving spoon? Open the microwave door and point to the start button? Play guessing games to puzzle out the words blocked in his mind? Take the password off his computer? How do you do these things and preserve worth?
We go back to the definition. We ask ourselves – am I valuable because I know what a fork is? Am I valuable because I know my wife is 62 and not 72? Because I can use a microwave?
In this thirty second moment my mind races. It floods. It is soaked.
I am flung over a strong shoulder and my little girl tummy is squeezed in the rhythm of my daddy’s buoyant steps up the stairs to my bedroom. It’s bedtime. I am a sack of potaties. I’m giggling out of my mind and happy to be thrown from his shoulder and tucked under my covers.
I am getting out of the bathtub and getting wrapped into my purple striped towel. The warmth lasts about six seconds before the towel starts into a pattern of frenzied friction and my hair, arms, legs, and bottom are all toweled dry in a matter of a few seconds.
I am slowly pushing open the door to my brother’s bedroom. The room is dark. I quietly step inside and walk toward the bunk bed. I courageously climb the ladder at its end and peep my head over the top of the side rail. I know who is hiding under the blue comforter and polar bear sheets. I still shriek when he yells, “BOO!”
I am getting dropped off at youth group for a weekend conference. My hair is pulled back at the nape of my neck in a drab ponytail. My zip-up hoody is ragged around the wrists. He turns to me and gives me a kiss on the lips and wishes me a fun trip. I am embarrassed and happy at the same time.
I am curled into a warm side. The footrest is up and my feet are pressed against his shin. I might be crying. But I am okay. I’m okay now.
I love my daddy. I love my daddy. I love him. Love him. Love him.
But we are losing something that cannot be regained. The person I love is changing.
The skin of his head has been cut, sutured, cut, and sutured again. Radiation reduced thick black hair to shallow grey patches. A biologic therapy hoarsens a laugh. Steroids starve him. And a damn tumor is eating his mind.
His mind. His mind. His mind.
Do our minds define our worth? Is that where our lives reside? Does it rest in firing synapses and convoluted pathways of neurons and glial cells?
You can transplant kidneys, liver, and lungs… You can’t replace a brain.
It’s undoubtedly our most expensive part. Priceless maybe. Worth a lot. Very valuable.
Once it’s broken, does the price tag drop? Clearance for the item no one wants… a broken brain.
I’m not sure. I don’t know.
My dad is not strong enough to throw me over his shoulder. He is too tired to play hide and seek. He can’t drop me off because he’s not allowed to drive anymore. When I curl into his side, my words are cautious trying to understand what is happening in his mind.
So when he says, “I am useless,” what am I supposed to say?
Dad. You are breaking my heart. I didn’t know hearing you say three words could hurt so quick and so deep. I want to remind you of all the things you have done for me to assure you that it’s not true. To say here is proof that you are not worthless. Could someone worthless have done all this stuff? Been so strong? Loved me so well? But if I do that… I am proving your point. I am saying you had value because of what you did. And now that you can’t do those things, you are no longer valuable.
Okay. Let’s step back. Let’s take a breath.
Its definition is simple - something someone wants. The economic rule of supply and demand. The more people who want it the more you can charge. The more it is worth.
I want you. And it’s not just me. It’s your wife. Your other four kids. Your daughter-in-law. Your three soon to be four grandkids. Your four brothers and four sisters. Your nieces and nephews. Your coworkers. Your friends. Every student you ever met in those past years on college campuses. We want you. We want you. We want you. You are worth so much to us.
But if for some reason… If we all vanished, some catastrophic event wiped us all out but left you untouched… Has your value then vanished too? When there is no one left to love you, does that mean you are no longer worth being loved?
Has the orphan no value because she has no mother to hold her? The addict no worth because every friend has left him? The vagabond not worth remembering having been forgotten so long?
This is why I still believe in God. Or maybe this is who I believe God is. An unending, undying, ever-present, always-existing source. God is the only reason I can come up with to explain why it is so crushing for me to hear my dad say, “I am worthless.” Because I know his value. It’s precious and rare.
But it’s not an internal quality. It’s an external gift. And every day is Christmas.