That’s What It’s All About

Prompted by the thirty-somethingth squeaky recitation of the Elmo Hokey Pokey, my mom (re)told the story on me that she uses to mark my beginnings as a non-player of silly games. I guess I’ve always had my elbows out and been a Contrary of sorts.

She had returned to fetch me from nursery Sunday School when I was maybe three. My “teacher” reported that, while all the other children put their right foot in, I refused to do so, much less to shake it all about. I was not going to do foolish things because some stranger told me those were the rules.

You put your right arm In. Hopefully, you'll get it back.

I related this story once from a Presbyterian pulpit. The elders were tasked with telling our faith stories. Mine included this pre-school memory of being a young heretic refusing to do the Holy Hokey Pokey (pictured being sung here by the ever-obnoxious dancing Elmo and performed by grand daughter Taryn). I was, early on, a non-conformist in matters of piety, policy and practice.

That I was pronouncing a Sunday Sermonette within the Church as an adult was a consequence of a compelling need to learn truly what “it’s all about.” Even so, I told them, I might not turn myself about even amongst such wonderful peers unless I understood why.

I can’t say I understand why or know yet what it’s all about. And life has a way of dealing you hands that make even your certainties come into question. I’ll just say, in regard to baby Henry, I fall somewhere between the two extreme causalities: there is a greater Purpose for Good to all that befalls us; and God is love, but still, like the bumper sticker says, bad “Stuff Happens.”

Taryn "petting" baby Henry. He approves.

I mention this for the few of you who were following Henry’s uncertain first weeks clinging to life September a year ago. His birth injuries were extensive and viability uncertain. But fifteen months later, he is doing amazingly well, considering. His medications are many and their administration requires the skills of a pharmacist and the precise timing of a military operation.

He is off the feeding tube, on thickened liquids. He only recently started sleeping through the occasional night. He will have problems with vision and hearing and trunk support and control of his arms and legs, and will soon be attempting to wean from strong (though mostly effective) anti-seizure drugs and start on a diet-controlled (ketogenic) means of maintenance. What he sees and hears and knows, as is the case for any infant, is uncertain, but he seems mostly okay with whatever happens, “talking” far more than crying. He smiles often and seems somehow at peace.

This special-needs child has come into our lives and found his place and his peace, it turns out by chance or design, in the care of the best possible parents to do the work. We have faith that the power of love and commitment is greater than the forces of chaos and disorder and self-centered want. Somewhere in all this, that’s what it’s all about.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Thank you for the lovely piece on Henry and “that’s what it’s all about.” Boy, that mystery will always remain 100% mysterious to me, although I intend to keep the faith in goodness, no matter what. I hope my intention is stron enough to hold up, no matter what.
    I’m very happy to hear that Henry talks much more than cries, and seems peaceful. That is good news indeed. I really hope he will have sufficient vision and hearing to enjoy the beauties of this world.

  2. Yes, that’s what it’s all about. I’m so happy that Henry was born to people who can love and care for him. We don’t know how strong we can be until we have to be strong.

  3. If only it were so simple as putting our appendages in and out and turning ourselves about! I appreciate hearing of Henry’s progress. Happy New Year!

  4. Thank you for the beautiful pictures of family and grandkids! Henry looks great with his beautiful smile for cousin T.!!