In the eye of the changed

Almost 23 years ago, my friends John (’78) and Sue Hodges brought a new life into the world. To their surprise, he was a Down’s syndrome baby. At the time, I remember telling them how gracious of God to have given this beautiful baby to parents as loving and caring as John and Sue and to siblings Sara (’05), Pierce (’08) and Jared who would open their arms to this little boy needing such special care. My heart was breaking for them, but in a strange, sad sort of way, I was rejoicing that his tiny little boy had arrived in a home so ready to love him.

But I was wrong.

As Ian Hodges grew up, he was, as so many Down’s syndrome children are, pure love and joy. Of course, he had challenges. What child doesn’t? But the anomalies he had in chromosomes were more than made up for in the love and the delight in life that he exuded. As a teenager, I had worked with Down’s children and observed that it was as if they were born with no guile. They could — and did — love and accept those around them with an abandon that they rest of us could only envy. As columnist George F. Will once wrote of his own Down’s syndrome son: But happiness is a species of talent, for which some people have superior aptitudes. That was Ian.

When Ian turned 11, he followed his big brothers Pierce and Jared into the ranks of Harrisonburg Boy Scout Troop 72. At first, we all wondered: How will this work?

Almost instantly, though, Ian burrowed his way into the hearts of the troop members. The Scoutmaster watched the other Scouts change. They learned so much from Ian about compassion and love and the joy of living. Ian was a “hugger,” and when he would sidle up beside another Scout and throw his arms around him, he might have been pushed away. Hugging, after all, is a little gross in the minds of most young boys — definitely a “yuck” factor there. But the leaders watched as these tough Scouts —every last one of them — embraced Ian. He became one of them.

Ian hiked and camped with his troop, and often ran SAG with his dad for longer expeditions, those that his body might not carry him through. He attended meetings with enthusiasm and almost completed the rank of first class. He wore his uniform with pride. He watched as his brothers earned the rank of Eagle Scout. No one was prouder of them than Ian. He sometimes accompanied his father John on visits to JMU, where John is the technology manager for the School of Media Arts and Design. Ian became the constant companion of his mother Sue, whose cooking and caring skills are legendary in the troop and in the community in which the Hodges live.

Ian became a part of us all.

He had had a few health scares in the past, but this one came unexpectedly. Ian’s enormous heart stopped beating early last Friday morning.

My husband, the tough and resilient Scoutmaster, sobbed when he got the news. Had we not been traveling hundreds of miles away, he would have run directly to John and Sue and done what Ian had so perfectly modeled. He would have hugged them, hoping to ease their pain.

Ian Hodges’ years on earth were not long, but his impact was significant. Ian taught a bunch of men and boys, a church community and extended communities of friends what it means to live with unconditional love and to live completely blind to race or creed or disposition. In this respect, he was so much better than the rest of us. As a result, the Boy Scouts of America has awarded the organization’s Spirit of the Eagle award to Ian Joseph Hodges in recognition of his magnanimous spirit and his contributions to Troop 72.

And this is where I was wrong so many years ago. Ian was not born to be loved unconditionally by a family. He was born to love all of us that way and to show us all how. Every life of significance changes people. You might say that significance is in the eye of the changed.

Ian Hodges changed us all.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

3 Responses to In the eye of the changed

  1. Anonymous says:

    I only had a few moments to meet and be with Ian – at a JMU sporting event – but he left an lasting impression. Thanks for sharing this Martha.

    -Curt Dudley


    • Anonymous says:

      How I remember Ian’s hugs at Dave and Kent’s Eagle ceremony! Troop 72 was so blessed to have had Ian as a member!


  2. Anonymous says:

    Beautifully said Martha! What a special journey that family has had , what an example to us all.


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