Today is World Cerebral Palsy Day and it’s also the feast day of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order. Based on my experience as a mom of two children with special needs, one of whom has cerebral palsy, it’s easy to spot parallels between St. Bruno and a life with cerebral palsy.
My daughter was born prematurely in 2002 and was diagnosed not long after her first birthday. At various points in her life, she has used a walker, arm crutches, leg braces, or a wheelchair to help her get around. The mobility aid she uses at any given time depends upon a variety of factors, including her physical condition at the time, the distance she needs to cover, the terrain, or the speed at which she needs to move. Often she doesn’t use any mobility aids, but her disability is never “hidden” because her gait is unusual, she walks slowly, and she falls a lot.
Having an unusual gait, walking slowly, or using a mobility aid all put a spotlight on her differences, and it has been that way since she was a toddler. In our small town, everyone knew who she was because she stood out in a crowd. Because she was an active and fearless child, she chose to play softball, join the swim team, and participate in short kids’ races, which led many people over the years to declare her inspirational, a fighter, or an example to be followed.
St. Bruno was both a very public figure and a very private one. Born in Germany, he became a famous teacher, fought against the decadence of the clergy, and was even involved in the removal of his own scandalous archbishop. But Bruno didn’t want that life - he yearned instead for a quiet life of solitude and prayer and persuaded a few friends to join him. Eventually, they were gifted a piece of land for their hermitage and became the Carthusian order.
While my daughter may have been “local-famous” she didn’t much like it. She didn’t want to be anyone’s inspiration or example. She wanted to live quietly - normally - so during her preteen and early teen years, she tried to blend in with the crowd, with little success. Eventually, she stopped trying to be “normal” and instead surrounded herself with a few good friends who appreciated her needs and desire not to be placed on a pedestal. Sure, they knew all about the things she did that made her an example for others, but they were drawn to the real her, not the Teacher of Important Truths. During her high school years, surrounded by these good friends and some strong Catholic mentors, her faith grew. By the time she graduated, she had become a spiritual mentor to a younger girl in the youth group and was a guest speaker at a spiritual retreat.
She is eighteen now, a college freshman four hours away from home, learning how to navigate the world on her own. Her roommate was a stranger until they matched up during the housing process, but they bonded instantly through their Catholic faith, and she made another sweet Catholic friend across the hall in the dorm. She has attended Mass every week since she moved into the dorm in early August, even if she didn’t have a friend to go with her. Like St. Bruno, she will probably always be known to many for what she accomplishes, but her heart leads her to follow God more quietly.
Parenting a child with a disability is a series of deep valleys and soaring mountaintops, and every member of our family has experienced those highs and lows over and over again. Our daughter was recognized statewide in the spring as a trailblazer in adaptive sports and became the first female member of the wheelchair tennis team at her university. Our son, who has Down syndrome, is beloved by many in our community for his positive and loving spirit (high mountains!) But on the other hand, each of our children has been vulnerable to poor treatment by others. Physically, our daughter’s peers passed her long ago and she will never catch up. Intellectually, our son with Down syndrome has been left behind by the world, as well (low valleys!). As a parent, these facts are not always easy to accept. But whenever we traverse these valleys (or mountains), it’s important to keep in mind the Carthusian motto: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, Latin for “The Cross is steady while the world is turning.”
My husband and I know that God gave each of our children a purpose in this life, and we have been committed to helping them know Him, love Him, and reach the potential He gave them. Your child, no matter whether he or she becomes a famous teacher like the early St. Bruno, or lives a life of solitude like the later St. Bruno, has a purpose, as well.
More about St. Bruno:
Andi Sligh is a wife and mother of two children with disabilities and three dogs. She is a lifelong Alabamian, Dr. Pepper addict, Catholic convert, and former engineer who rediscovered a love of writing when she became a mom. You can find more of her writing at https://andisligh.com/