To the Person Who Told Me My Son Should Be InstitutionalizedMike Berry
As I type these words, I go back in my mind to the moment you said those horrible words: “Well, if he has brain damage, he should be in an institution.”
I’m sitting here trying to convince myself that you didn’t mean them … that your words were misheard by me … that you don’t really feel that way. But I’m not sure that’s the case.
I think you did mean them. More than that, my precious child thinks you meant them, too. He overheard what you said. He’s been told things like this before from people who didn’t mean well, didn’t have his best interest in mind. He’s had to live with the reality that he’s not normal, and never will be. He knows he has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and that a part of his brain will always be missing. At 13, he’s already begun processing the truth that his birth mother chose drugs and alcohol over his health when he was in her womb. It hasn’t been an easy truth to face.
And what you did not realize was that we’re already wrestling over whether or not to find a place, other than our home, for him to live in order to keep him safe. And no, it’s not an “institution,” because this is 2016, not 1916 when people chose to discard human beings like they were trash instead of fight for them, love them, and care for them. The decision is crushing us to the bone. We’re not sure what to do. Because of his disorder, he’s almost incapable of making wise choices … choices that keep him safe … the kind that we all learn in a normal-functioning state of mind, growing up.
It’s not like you care about any of that, however. There’s no ounce of your being that cares whether his heart heals. You were only annoyed with his behavior, and that’s why you said those disgusting words … words like bullets, that can never be un-fired. While you were busy spouting off horrible words, you missed the bigger picture.
He has a future.
As you spoke those poisonous words in his presence, and he started to believe you, you blew past one single truth about every human being on this planet: purpose. All seven billion of us on this spinning rock have purpose. There was no mistake when any of us were born. None of us were accidents. My son was no accident … even in the midst of a horrible disorder that could have been prevented … even though I deal with unbelievable trials with him, he has a future!
He’s not an animal.
You reduced him to that when you said he belonged in an institution — as if he were some animal who escaped from the zoo. You called him a monster in the same breath that you said he belonged in an institution. Your view was clouded by his momentary behavior (which I called him out on). He’s not an animal — he’s a child. He’s still learning how to function in this world. Add to that a disorder that causes impulsion, aggression, and lapse of judgment and this is what you get. By the way, this is what I live with 24/7. I don’t see an animal … I see my son.
He’s a human being.
Do you want to know why our country is divided right now? It’s not because of two politicians who act like toddlers in suits. It’s because we have failed to see everyone as they really are: human beings … living, breathing, beautiful, precious human beings. Everyone. Because of that, we are all entitled to fair treatment — always! My son included. He’s a human being. Is he imperfect? By all means, yes. But so are you and so am I.
I can’t stop you from saying hurtful words like you said, but I can call you out for saying them. And, by golly, I can make sure my son never goes near you again. You can be sure of that. At the end of this day, I’m not angry with you, nor do I harbor ill-feelings toward you (as this letter may reflect). I feel sorry for you. You miss so much beauty in the world by only seeing people’s flaws. Sometimes you must choose to see the good in people even when it’s cluttered by behavior, or attitude. It’s there … hidden behind brokenness. Maybe some day, before it’s too late, you’ll see it too.