The Road I Am On
As another phase of my life drifts to close I am aware of a few things. I am acute, to my bones and back, in touch with the understanding that my life is filled to overflowing with good things.
There are many hard won and hard fought for things brimming here. And also so many things of pure grace and not at all of my hand. There is a strength in my spirit that time has rubbed in. I have gifts of the things I can see and touch and also the harder to define things of the soul. Yet, in all of that, there is an undeniable jagged spice of bitter mixed in with the abundance of sweet. There is a definite twist and curve in direction to the road I am on.
I am able to reflect in a much easier manner these days. I can look at my son and say to myself “He has Autism” and I don’t feel the need to shrink away or to follow too far anymore the questions of why. The sadness and sorrow that I have felt will always be a part of me. It is etched like fine lines in the smooth glass. It is there but doesn’t require my attention the way it once did.
More and more these days I am walking much further into the light. Feeling all of these things like tender skin but stretching against myself and feeling my faith tugging back. There are a power and a beautiful strength in a heart that begins to forcibly rewire itself towards hope, love, and light. A softness, a gentle voice, velvet hands, and a sweet curved smile that belies a toughness like steel to my new heart. I’ve survived something with the best parts of who I was still intact and a willingness to embrace a new grace for myself.
I can also say out into the world now in a way that I could not before that my son has Autism. There never was shame attached but there was some underlying feeling that if I said it out loud people would pity me or, far worse pity him and that they would diminish their expectation of my only son. That is probably even true. Some people indeed will. I am not afraid of the loss of people anymore. Let the ones who do not bring light and love wash away.
I also held some vestige belief that my giving it voice would somehow cement it in and make it real and for some time I was not ready for that. But, today I am aware of the people who will matter and the people who can shed away with the rest of the things that have fallen from me. The ones who will matter will carefully hear the things I want to say, they will come in as far as I will let them, and they will always speak of hope and expectation for my son. They will understand that I’m on a special path. It’s not bigger or better or any harder than anybody else’s challenges but it is just enough of a twist to take a lot of me. They will respect how much my children mean to me. They will forgive me for my craziness at times, as I will forgive theirs, and they will understand that I am a work in progress. They do not have to understand the process or the why’s but they must appreciate the journey I am on. Those are the people who will stick.
Yesterday Paul and I walked through the store looking idly at toddler beds for Nicholas. There was sweet pain in seeing the things of bright hope found in childish things. The cribs and toys and bibs knocked loose a tiny ache. And as we passed through that happy section of the store, the very one I’d shopped at so many times, when I was full of the perfect joy of my perfect son oblivious to the turns his path would take.
Without any real thought at all, I said out loud “Do you remember when we knew he was a boy and we shopped for the perfect bedding and toys and things? Do you remember how excited we were? Do you remember when we didn’t know and he was still perfect and everything was so full of possibilities? Do you remember how good that felt? I’m so glad we had that time.” There was a stinging slap and jolt in my gut as I saw how young we all were then. How is possible to grow so much in so short a time? How is that possible and yet here we are so much older somehow. Paul replied that he did and that he was glad too for the perfect smooth unwrinkled time we had. But, I could see the distance and deep reflection in his eyes too.
Of course, Nicholas still is perfect, still full of every possibility, but there is no denying the shift and crack and the rumble of the sudden landslide that follows the words “Your son has Autism” It takes over everything else and becomes a revision in motion blotting out even the sun for a while. Until recently, when I’ve come to settle in a fragile peace, it took over everything.
There is a free and easy pain today that flows with all my hopes and all my love for him. I know Nicholas is in there. There is a profound new understanding as I go along that inside of every Autistic person IS a voice that longs to find a way out. It is only a matter of time. When I look in Nicholas’s eyes I see the possibilities of swimming there. He is happy, he smiles, he loves, and every single day he grows. He is just that same little boy we dreamed about wandering the bright merry aisles of baby toys. We just had to adjust to a slight change in plans. Our road is just different not damaged, not less. Paul and I would not change the things we’ve been given for anything at all even though there is always destined to be a certain amount of pain. I can look at this today in a way I could not before.
Today I took my coffee out and sat in the swing that is in the middle of our yard underneath the green leaves of tall guarding trees. This is the spot that stole my heart when we first looked at this house. Back then I said to myself “I’ll sit there in the mornings and I’ll drink my coffee and I’ll appreciate all the places I’ve been” though I rarely in these four years have found the time to do it. Today I did. And my eyes filled and watered easily the way they always do these days when my prismed tear smudged vision chanced upon the sight of Nicholas’s sunflowers blooming in the yard.
I thought back to the day when Nicholas brought the little flowers home and brought them to me grinning a wobbly proud gap-toothed smile. I thought of how the little flowers came as tiny sprouts in a dented styrofoam cup as just fragile tender green shoots barely reaching above the soil. I remember how I thought there was no way they would grow. I remember how I planted them in the soil outside by the roses in front of my kitchen window. I planted them after a week of surviving determinedly their bad beginning in the battered cup. I planted them there without much hope but I did my best anyway. And they did grow, though one stalk leaned weakly one way and the other drooped near to the ground. I had to tie it up to a bracing pole so it even had a chance to reach the light.
I’d watch those little sprouts, turned stalks, as I went about my chores from my kitchen window, I kept thinking they just aren’t strong enough to ever bloom. Everywhere around me in other yards flashy, bright, and merry sunflowers bloomed in explosions of in my face color. Then one day when I’d least expected I saw from my kitchen that Nicholas’s flowers had suddenly bloomed. Two beautiful sunflower faces nodding toward the sun, though not as tall and certainly not as vivid in color as those in the gardens next door, still so lovely to see, those pale sunny petals so precious to me. I remember how on that day I’d stood in front of those flowers snapping pictures with silly tears streaking down my face.
Nicholas is like the little sunflowers that bloomed. Those flowers seemed not as bright or as tall as others in other yards might have been but because they’d taken their time in appearing, those blooms did stay long after the other flowers laid their spent bright petals down. I loved Nicholas’s little flowers more than those others for all the ways they had to try. They are still hanging on after most of the others have faded away even today as I sat swaying with my thoughts in the glider swing.
I thought of the days I used to actually wonder if I could do this, the thing of raising a special needs child. It seemed so silly today. How could it be a question at all? Nicholas is so precious to me my love and his physical skin is intertwined dancing into eternity winding and twining like tendrils of smoke. You can’t see it but sometimes in moments of quiet I can. It’s a real and tangible thing his connection to me.
Yes, it is bittersweet the things that have come to pass. And yes I cry easily but there is so much beauty found in the mess of simply letting go, allowing the pieces fall where they may. There is strength in this loss of control. I am stronger for accepting the bending of my dreams. How could I feel anything but strength, peace, and love swinging quietly underneath the beautiful trees with Nicholas’s flowers nodding at me? Sitting in my own yard it was obvious how far the road has come and just how carried I’ve been. It’s amazing and unfathomable the distance I’ve come. How far we’ve all come down the road with all the tears and laughter too. All the places, the people, the things that have come to pass like footprints tracked in the dust as we’ve made our way. All of it to find me there at that moment swinging gently under the soothing trees feeling a well of gratitude so great it rivaled any pain that ever there was. That’s one of the places I’ve been. It’s all a part of a grand journey, a gentle resting spot along the road I am on.