I came across this video today of an armless man who plays the piano with his feet. This is from an episode of “China’s Got Talent” (this reality show thing is everywhere!):
You can read more about this story here.
This reminds me of a family I met during my time working at CAMP-of-the-WOODS. The Dennehy’s are just an incredible family who were led by the Lord several years ago to adopt a Romanian child born with no arms. Once they had already incurred the expense of getting their house ready to accommodate him, they decided to look for and adopt additional children who had been born with no arms! They have now adopted several children with and without special needs, in addition to having biological children as well.
What struck me upon meeting the Dennehy’s was how well these “disabled” children had adapted. I was the children’s worship leader the summer of 2004, and George and James were my two biggest helpers! George even gave a cello recital… at the time he was nine years old, and played better than most 9-year-old cellists who have arms! A few years after that, the “700 Club” ran a special about George’s cello playing. (I’m especially proud that he lists his favorite Bible verse as Hebrews 11:6, because that was our theme verse at camp in 2004, and I helped write a song to teach it to the kids!)
I have two observations with these two stories. First, isn’t it amazing the degree of complexity and flexibility with which the human body is designed?! In addition to the activities they showed George doing in the video, I saw he and his brother water skiing, playing basketball, and a host of other things for which most of us would think hands indispensable. During my time working in music therapy, I witnessed countless examples of those with physical and mental disabilities adapting to overcome their apparent limitations.
Second, I think what George says at the end of the video is both simple and profound: “Every life is made for a purpose.”
Why is it that we are so drawn to stories of disabled people overcoming their disabilities? It seems this is universally expected. The blogger who wrote the story about the Chinese pianist wrote that if you watched the video without getting emotional, “you clearly have no soul.” Recently listed by TV Guide as one of the 10 most heartwarming shows of all time was “Life Goes On”, which featured Chris Burke, an actor with Down’s Syndrome, as Corky Thatcher. There is something inherent in each of us that loves these stories. People such as Chris Burke, George Dennehy, and Liu Wei are a blessing and encouragement to nearly everyone they meet. Those of us who have worked with the handicapped (and even more so those with handicapped family members) would probably agree that this is nearly universally true.
How then can we treat them as disposable? For this is exactly what those with disabilities have become. With the advent of prenatal genetic screening, more and more parents are choosing to abort children who are known to have some “unwanted” defect. A 2006 survey found that an appalling 91-93% of pregnancies in the UK and Europe with a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome were terminated. The statistic is not much better in the United States.
Children with physical handicaps are also very likely to be aborted or given up for adoption. Mentally and physically disabled children are almost always passed over for adoption in favor of “healthy” children. Though there are very few people bold (or honest?) enough to actually say that disabled people are less deserving of life (Peter Singer being a notable exception), in many ways, this is the way many people throughout the world feel, evidenced by their treatment of these people, born and unborn.
So how do we reconcile a widespread belief that born or unborn disabled children have no value with a nearly universal love for stories of successful and talented disabled people? Had Liu Wei’s condition been present at birth, he almost certainly would have been killed, yet he is being heralded as a man who has reached the pinnacle of success, and who has moved the entire nation of China. Do they not see the disconnect?
Here in the States, are we any better? Abortions are becoming more readily available, often just as matters of convenience. Doctors continue to look for ways to allow parents to pick and choose the genetic factors they would like their children to have. Who are we to play God?
What will it take for people to see that every human life is created for a purpose. Every baby has value. Every child has massive potential. Every man, woman, and child, bears the Imago Dei. George asked a great question: “Why would God make a life and not do anything with it?”
The answer is that He wouldn’t. I thank God for these stories, and for all the countless reminders He gives us that life is wonderful because He is its Author.