The Bottom Line
By Christopher de Vinck; 151 pages. Subtitle: A Brother's Legacy of Love
In all the coverage and opinion pieces published around the death of Terri Schindler Schiavo, one that particularly caught my eye was an essay by Christopher de Vinck about his brother, Oliver, who despite being in a vegetative state his entire life was nonetheless an inspiration to his family, as were the parents who cared for him lovingly and without hesitation.
- Tells a story not often told, about parenting a severely disabled child.
- Finds value in lives that many would see as valueless.
- Gives appreciation to those who care for and truly care about the disabled.
- Upbeat without focusing on miracle cures and outcomes.
- Message is even more necessary in these days as euthanasia is gaining support.
- Disabled people are treated as saintly symbols more than individuals.
- Much -- maybe too much -- is read into the lives of the disabled.
- Written in the late '80s, the book may seem out of date.
- As described by their loving son, the parents come off as maybe a little too saintly, too.
- This is inspiration with a strong religious point of view, which some may find off-putting.
- Introduction by Henri J.M. Nouwen
- 16 chapters
- Afterword by Fred Rogers
Guide Review - Book Review: The Power of the Powerless
“The Power of the Powerless” grew out of an essay that received wide publication in the ‘80s. It made the papers again during the recent debate over euthanasia and persistent vegetative states. The book expands on the story of de Vinck’s brother Oliver, who lived to the age of 33 without ever being able to see, hear, move or interact, but inspired in those who knew or heard of him an appreciation for the value of all life.
Along with Oliver’s story, de Vinck shares the stories of those who wrote to him in the aftermath of his article’s original publication. We read letters of praise from all over, and more detailed, first-person tales from the fathers of a child who died shortly after birth, a child with severe brain damage, and a child with Down syndrome. All share the sentiment that these children’s lives had or have special meaning, not in spite of their disabilities but in large measure because of them.
And that’s nice to read these days, when lives marked by suffering are considered unliveable. Reading of the unflagging care Oliver’s parents gave him can only be inspirational to those of us parenting challenged children now. Yet it’s hard not to notice that for all its championing of the disabled, this book doesn’t treat them as individuals so much as empty boxes in which the able-bodied can admire their own perceptions, insights and efforts at nobility. If that makes you uneasy, you may want to read this book in small installments.