Like any young couple in the 80s, Jimmy and Deborah struggled with great difficulty to start and raise a family and maintain their love for each other as expectantly as they could. This was compounded with increasing difficulty as they were considered a military family moving every two years from place to place. But soon, all that would change when a promising business opportunity opened up for the young couple and they decided to settle down in Albany, New York. Things were moving right along quite well for them and then the news over which they were waiting so patiently finally arrived. They were expecting their first child!
The excitement of this new life within their family was almost too overwhelming as they received much support and encouragement from all their family across the U.S. and their new-found life-long friends in the Albany area. This effusion of joy, however, was to be met with immediate horror, then sadness, then remarkable resilience, as they witnessed something terribly wrong with the birth of their first born son, Jeremy. Something was terribly wrong with their baby even though all the internal organs and expected mental and intellectual standards were met. It was then that the family and friends of the newborn were introduced to a bizarre condition known as anotia. Anotia is a rare birth defect where the external ear is completely missing. While Jimmy and Deborah breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing that all little Jeremy’s vital organs were in perfect order, and that there would be no learning or other physical impairment to his future, they both knew instinctively that he would have a tough time socially with other children and the not-so-subtle stares he would receive in whatever life he pursued. And they were absolutely correct.
During little Jeremy’s early life, his parents, for that matter, his entire extended family tried the very best they could to protect him and build confidence in himself devoid of his appearance. They cleverly looked for all kinds of activities, especially sports that would involve moments that would not involve a whole lot of interaction and socialization and found that amazingly he was quite adept at swimming and running. Still the inevitable would not be avoided and his first day of school provided the most expected of all reactions to his appearance.
“They called me a freak!” he wailed out to his mother who was waiting for such a reaction. “I never want to go back to school, ever!” he continued. And even though he seemed inconsolable, his wise mother knew differently.
“You’re not a freak, Jeremy. You’re mine.” This became her go-to mantra for the next twenty years or so. It was a phrase which he never forgot and often repeated deep within his soul. It helped him sail through and face the rest of elementary and junior high school bullies and insensitive morons who could or would never fully understand the impact of harsh words layered upon someone so wonderful and lovable inside, even though there were no outer ears to complete the expectations of most, if not all, of a full facial composition.
His father was also a most profound and steady support to his loving son. He continued to help develop his swimming and running skills and found that Jeremy had a natural proclivity for these sports which was evidenced by the number of ribbons and trophies he was amassing from these two athletic competitions. Still, there were those painful moments of exclusion and mockery and it may or may not have impeded Jeremy’s desire to ask girls out on dates or just develop his social life. For that he just plunged deeper and deeper into his studies and his cross-country running skills, both of which grew remarkably in depth and accomplishment. Midway through his junior year in high school, however, he received two amazing bits of news.
First, it looked as if he was going to be valedictorian of his highly-competitive school and with that honorary and well-deserved distinction, he was going to have his own basic and personal choice of any university in the nation. Second, a distant cousin made the bold and stunning declaration that before Jeremy would step out on his own, he would actually donate his own outer ears to his relative to ensure a much better and smooth sail into his future destinations. What a spectacular pair of overwhelmingly great events to happen so close to each other and to such a deserving young man.
But before we get ahead of ourselves here, life, as we all know, has a strange way of surprising us even when it has just surprised us. The news of Jeremy’s special condition spread quickly after the announcement of his first place spot on the list of graduates all the way to Washington, DC where he was offered a fast-track and full scholarship to a top diplomatic and political science university to prepare his way for a career to serve his country in one of the many embassies around the world. The second installment of surprise was not as joyful, at first. You see, the cousin of young Jeremy at the last minute backed out of his offer citing fear and the great unknown as to the aftermath of the surgery. While the scholarship news filled everyone with hope, the second was painful to hear. However, there must have been an angel constantly hovering over Jeremy because within a week of the disappointing news came yet another offer of an astounding donation of outer ears, this time, moreover from an anonymous source. The only condition that was placed before the family was that Jeremy would never know the donor.
It did not take the family that long to decide to accept this kind offer and after much consultation with doctors and surgeons, the procedure was to take place during the Christmas break of Jeremy’s Senior year, and with that announcement, the flood of prayers and well-wishes flowed in like a tsunami. What seemed like an impossible dream was about to show itself as the greatest gift and moment not only for Jeremy but for all those who knew him and loved him very much. Over the years, Jeremy had become a loving, compassionate and trusted friend to everyone, his personality and character sculpted, as it were, over the years of carrying this strange deformity. People were desperately waiting for the news of the surgery and of course to see Jeremy with his “new” look and their time would come close to New Year’s Day when Jeremy walked out with his new appendages. Tears and laughter and more tears were not in short supply that day and the rest of his impressive Senior Year, including his inspiring Valedictory address which immediately became historic and deeply embedded in the memories of both family and friends.
After all this, not much else can truly compare with the dramatic unfolding of these events. People all around the family, as is the normal case, began to move on with their lives as Jeremy was accepted to his prize university and then continued to excel both professionally and spiritually. He met the woman of his dreams and they married as soon as his new post in Paris was announced. They began to talk about starting a family, and, with the normal hesitation and worry if history would repeat itself with the condition that had earlier plagued Jeremy, both of their sons, born within three years of each other, entered this world both wonderfully and healthy.
Over the course of raising their growing family, receiving a baby girl a few years later, Jeremy and his wife began to talk about settling down back in the U.S. after considering consulting work either for the Pentagon or the State Department. They had just decided on making those professional moves for themselves and their family, when sad news appeared on their doorstep in the form of news that never seems to be properly expected nor welcomed. Jeremy’s dad called to announce that his mother had died. While she was not ailing from any known ailment, she went rather quickly in her sleep. Jeremy began the immediate preparations to fly home with all his family to attend her funeral.
As expected with any unexpected travel, there were delays after delays and Jeremy and his young family arrived very late the night before the Funeral Mass long after the Wake Service had been completed. Since the family was very well known and loved, and there were so many who came to pay their respects, the Rosary was held in the Church and the body was to remain overnight. As soon as his father picked them up at the airport, he drove them straight to the parish where the priest met them at the front door close to midnight. While Jeremy’s wife stayed in the car to watch over their sleeping children, he and his dad made their way with the pastor into the nave and slowly approached the coffin.
As their solemn footsteps echoed through the empty, slightly darkened church, Jeremy could still hear his mother’s voice that had made that lasting impression into his soul, “You’re not a freak, Jeremy. You’re mine.” Slowly the casket was opened and Jeremy cried instinctively with deep loving tears rolling down his cheeks as he gazed downward to the serene face of his mother’s body lying so peacefully in repose.
“Jeremy?” his dad whispered to his son.
“Yes, dad. What is it?” came the subtle reply.
“Jeremy, your mother loved you very much and would do anything for you. I want you never to forget that, Son.” And with that, Jeremy’s dad reached gingerly and tenderly into the casket and slowly moved away his mother’s hair revealing that she had no outer ears. She had been the anonymous donor.
“She made me promise,” continued his dad, “never to tell you until this sad day. She said she hoped it would help carry you through this difficult moment.”
And it did
“A Mother’s love is something that no one can explain. It is made of deep devotion and of sacrifice and pain. It is endless and unselfish and enduring come what may. For nothing can destroy it or take that love away.” ~Helen Steiner Rice