Today, me, my wife and our two children attended a conference for families dealing with children afflicted with Type 1 Diabetes. We attended because my seven year old son has been a Type 1 diabetic for close to two years.
While the kids took advantage of the rare opportunity to play with others with similar challenges, my wife and I attended some excellent sessions. I was especially excited by one that was given by a University of Alberta researcher doing fascinating work on islet cell transplantation (very hopeful work!).
In contrast to the rational tone struck in the researcher’s session, some of the others – especially the Keynote – were much more emotional. I was expecting this. After all, coping with diabetes is very emotional business. Even after two years, I still have moments of extreme anger, sadness, helplessness and frustration around my son’s diabetes. Worrying that he could go to sleep and not wake up (i.e. go into comma) due to severe hypoglycemia is not fun. Neither is knowing that high blood sugar levels could eventually add up to major damage to my son’s vision or kidneys or heart… among other things.
I hate diabetes and I hate it even more that my son has it. Today I learned that I am not alone in that hatred.
However, today I also learned how prolifically my being an atheist sets me apart from how people who believe in God view their child’s affliction.
I do not ask “Why him?”. Not ever.
But that very question was asked (or at least implied) by several people over the course of the day. It started with the Keynote speaker who frequently invoked God in trying to give comfort to us. “God has a plan” he’d say. “Your child’s diabetes is God’s way of strengthening your character” he’d say.
His speech was followed by a very helpful Q&A session where a young father asked, “How do you answer your child when he says, ‘Why me’?
And all the God-talk began again, and all I could think was, “Why is this question even being asked?”.
The question made me realize how my atheism so markedly sets me apart from those who believe in God or who are ‘spiritual’. To me, the question was non-sensical – but it certainly was not non-sensical to the people doing the asking and answering. To them, it was quite important.
For me, the answer to the question is simply and solely mathematical. Here is how I would have answered my fellow father…
“The reason our sons have diabetes is that one in four hundred children get diabetes and, unfortunately, our children drew the short stick in the statistical lottery. Our sons becoming diabetic is no different from the fact that one in eight women get breast cancer, or that one in four men are bald by the time they are 30. There is no ‘why me?’ to these statistics – they simply describe the fact that shit happens in predictable frequencies within the population.”
For me, this statistical explanation is enough. And, if you ask me, it’s a far more comforting way of thinking compared to trying to understand why God would cause or permit this sort of suffering to be inflicted on a child. Most importantly, the answer satisfies my son – especially when I can attach it to the fact that he’s very fortunate not to have been born 100 years ago, before the discovery of insulin therapy.
That aside, I can totally understand why a religious parent would have trouble coming up with an answer to ‘why me?’. I think it’s because deep down, they themselves subconsciously know that the answers a belief in God requires (e.g. “Diabetes is God’s gift to you” etc) are far from comforting.
In fact, those kinds of answers do nothing less than to paint a picture of a cruel, twisted God who inflicts pain and suffering on innocent pre-schoolers who do not have the mental capacity to even begin appreciating the ‘gift’ their God has so graciously provided.
No wonder these parents don’t know how to answer the question. Neither would I.