Reflecting on the various "paranormal" graces bestowed upon her through her son, Beck wonders about the justice of it all. After all, "people are tortured and killed and raped and pillaged on a daily basis, and if there are angels in the vicinity, they apparently just sit around watching wringing their ectoplasmic little hands, perhaps, but letting nature take its course."
Disdaining simple religious formulas about how the righteous will prosper, she tries to figure out "why some people get help from angels, and some get lobotomized by flying debris from freak wheat-threshing accidents." There hardly seem to be any satisfying answers. If there are angels out there, "they are working from a priority list that is very different from mine."
And yet, Beck's own story seems to offer at least a partial answer to her conundrum. The fact is that, for many of us, the news that our child had Down syndrome would hit us with roughly the same force and import as the news that he had been lobotomized in a freak accident. And if, unlike Beck, we held to that stance if we were not open to such graces as illumined her life our sense of unqualified disaster would surely find its own justification.
One needn't hold any of the established views on abortion to realize that, in a society where aborting "defective" fetuses is the norm, the Adamic graces are not the ones we are particularly looking for or opening ourselves up to. But what if we listened to the speech of all the circumstances of our lives, and then entered into conversation with whatever it was that came to meet us? Who can say in advance, or with stopped ears, what might emerge from such a conversation up to and including that most intimate of all conversations, the one with death?
I do not mean to suggest that we should all look for the peculiar signs and wonders that have been Martha Beck's lot. I for one have had a life-long, rock-solid conviction that, whatever the potentials for transcendently strange experiences in today's world, I myself would never have to worry about such things. And I've been right. I've always felt a strong identification with the conventional center and core of my own culture, even while finding myself compelled to seek an intellectual escape from its unexamined assumptions.
But I can nevertheless easily imagine that others live closer than I to those cultural boundaries defining reasonable and respectable experience. Beck seems to be one of them. In a way, though, the twilight-zone aspects of her story only get in the way of the deeper message. Many parents of Down syndrome children have experienced the full joy of a life-changing companionship without any intrusion of the "paranormal." That companionship and joy and change add up to the real miracle.
A miracle, in one worthy sense of the word, is whatever expresses those meaningful potentials of the world we have not yet fathomed. Wherever there is genuine meaning, someone is speaking. With our culture's several hundred years' inattention to the ways in which people and events speak ways that have little to do with the mere transmission of information much of the meaningful content of our lives has vanished from comprehension into the miraculous.
So there are far more miracles in our lives today than in the past; it's just that we've trained ourselves not to notice them. But they are there to be noticed. And many of us will find it easier to begin the noticing with the extraordinary help of a little Down syndrome boy named Adam. Proffering this help may well have been the task Adam brought to earth. Can any of the rest of us claim a more noble task?