Lightning rarely strikes the same spot twice. But when it does, it is momentous.
Lightning strikes are multifaceted. On one hand, they’re beautiful: colorful, unexpected, energizing. On the other hand, they’re destructive: violent, merciless, deadly. If you’re lucky enough to be an observer, you’re filled with awe and wonder at the power of nature. If you’re unlucky enough to be the target, you’re filled with fear and pain at its unforgiving hands. If you’re unlucky enough to be the target of a second strike, the results are devastating.
Such is the way with learning something is “wrong” with one’s child.
The first time it happens, it is crushing. The weight of the news, the fear of the unknown, the death of your hopes and plans—they sag heavily on the soul, pressing, suffocating, stealing the life out of you. You stew in grief and confusion, sometimes in anger and self-pity, asking how God could let such a thing happen to an innocent child. You strike bargains with Him, begging Him to let you switch places with your child, to sacrifice some other aspect of your life, to grant pity and generosity on your undeserving existence. You live with this weighty torture for weeks, months, even years.
The second time is different. The second time you learn yet another of your children will be burdened with challenges, the news nearly murders what part of your soul remains. The grief is there, this time bursting into you and coursing through your veins with an urgency and malice that leaves you buckling at the knees, a primal and guttural despair escaping from your lips sporadically. Once it’s penetrated your vitality, it thickens like molasses, this monster of misery, snaking and slithering its way through the recesses of your heart and into your core, your limbs, inching malevolently toward your fingertips and toes. What took weeks, months and even years to settle into your spirit last time takes but hours, the serpent of agony lapping at any remaining threads of stability and certainty it discovers in your tormented being, licking its jowls with satisfaction at having left you nothing but a hollowed cavity.
The second time, however, there is no room for God. You have given up asking why. Negotiations are futile. You look upon God, if there is such a thing, with indifference. Dismissal, even. He is insignificant in this game, either powerless to help or smugly contemptuous toward your pleas, and so you don’t even bother with entreaties or contracts or faith. This neither saddens nor infuriates you. It just is.
You are overcome with so many emotions so quickly that no amount of screaming or pounding or hair pulling or hand-wringing offers release. You hate. You hate with an enmity and bitterness so intense it is frightening. You mourn. You mourn this child’s fate, his struggles, his prospects. You fear. You fear there is not enough in you to do this again, not enough resolve to endure with strength. You love. You love this child, without faltering and without question, no matter what. You hope. You hope further tests and scans prove the initial suspicions wrong, but you know hope is a cruel mistress, a dangerous entertainer, a dark and twisted teaser, for you know from experience that hope rarely takes your side, for hope is cousin to that evil demon of anguish so eager to permeate your existence initially.
You are at once two people inhabiting a single body: the person who has been through this before, who is reassuring the sufferer that all will work out and be well in time, and the freshly bloodied victim, helpless and paralyzed and incapable of doing life as it has always been done.
Then, just as suddenly as it attacked and spread, the beast of heartbreak retreats, receding from your fingertips and toes, back up through your limbs and into your core, and settling into a small corner of your soul, festering quietly there, poised and ready to strike on a whim, but permissive of logic and reason to inhabit its dwelling for a time. Though your body truly does belong to that monster of grief for eternity, logic and reason are able to lease space in your heart and to begin planning, researching, organizing and coping.
You know that lightning rarely strikes the same spot twice. But you also know that when it does, it is momentous. And when it does, the surviving scraps of what it has punished and pummeled and singed will never be the same.