One of the gifts, lessons, leave-behinds of having Ethan as my son is empathy; feeling deeply with others. I feel at home with someone in their sorrow, their desperation, their challenge, or their deep hope. I’ve peered behind the curtain and experienced the deepest, grittiest essence of life. Though parts of it appear undesirable on the surface, if you dig just a bit you’ll find a fulfillment that could not come from anywhere else. To feel deeply with another is an honor. A privilege. To step to the edge of fear or hope and to broach life’s deepest questions with another...this well… is the essence of life. It’s a place I find great meaning. We learn empathy by choosing love.
Ethan taught me to choose love. Even when I'm scared. When I choose love I choose to face the unknown. I choose the chance of being totally broken-hearted. I choose the exhilaration of incredible, deep, soul-filling love. I choose to live a big and wide life. I choose to open my heart to whatever comes. It’s a risk. But choosing love engages us in life in a way that we get to taste its sweetest, deepest part. Choosing love means I will be scared; it means I will hurt. Choosing love is brave.
It’s a choice we all get. Every day. We get to choose between love or fear. The option to choose love comes in many forms. Choosing love of self might mean we loose a relationship or loose our spot in a group or on a team. It might mean, however, that in that loss we find great freedom. Choosing love might mean that we feel misunderstood. Choosing love might mean that we say yes to something that’s messy and hard. Choosing love might mean that we take the roadless traveled. And in that roadless traveled we find our passion or purpose. Choosing love is sometimes facing our Goliath head on and telling him that we are not backing down no matter the cost. It means we will go down swinging. Choosing love also means we will suffer. I don’t think there is love without suffering, loss, change, or hardship. Choosing love will set you apart and it will have a price. And by choosing it you will feel fulfilled, clarified and whole.
Today Ethan has been gone from this earth for 3 years. He taught me that choosing love is always the right choice. When I’m afraid I consciously ask myself if I’m choosing love or fear. Writing this message today is a reminder to myself. Choosing fear is totally human. It’s our defense mechanism. Choosing fear shields us. But it also keeps us small. And we were created to live big lives. It’s so much easier to cower, to close our hearts, to run and hide. It’s harder to stand in front of life with open arms. There are plenty of days I still choose fear.
When Ethan was young I attended weekly yoga classes. At the end of a practice students lay on the floor in savasana. In this pose you lay on your back with your arms at your side and your hands open to the sky. Opening my hands to the sky was the hardest part of this final resting pose. To me, this was the act of opening myself up to life; to what may come; to parts of life I could not control. It was the act of surrendering. I didn’t like that idea. I had just spent months in the hospital with Ethan and I saw what could happen. I saw kids die. I feared it. I struggled to open my hands up to the sky, to breathe in and out. I was scared. And so my hands would be part open and part closed. They stayed this way for years.
Choosing love is not easy. I would not have been able to choose it fully had Ethan not been my son. I loved him so much that it became my only choice, my only option. In choosing Ethan I have been broken and transformed. When I connect with another mom whose child is sick or a mom whose child has died, when I see a friend in a tough spot, I whisper “thank you Ethan”. It’s because of him that I can see these people and love them and feel so deeply with them.
Months after Ethan died, Erik and I went to our local firehouse to vote. As I was walking back to the car I observed a mom with a grown son getting out of their van. This grown son was in a wheel chair. Hehad a trach and a ventilator. It was a production for her to get him out of the van. I looked at her and she looked at me. I just wanted to run up and hug her. There are many days I wish I could just go through life without seeing with my heart. In those moments I just whisper once again - “Thank you Ethan for coming. Thank you for teaching me to choose love. Please give me the courage to keep choosing love.”
Three years out I’m thankful. And sad and wishing it was different. Today is a hard day and the events of today three years ago are very painful. But the biggest part of me is thankful.
Will you honor Ethan today by choosing love over fear in your life? Will you “go there” with a friend, or say yes to loving yourself? Will you step out in a way that might transform you or others? Will you feel with someone? Will you try to put yourself in their shoes?
Even just for today.