My oldest son spontaneously called out from our hilly suburban yard, looking over to the neighbor’s yard towards two boys close in age.
I silently cheered his social initiation and then held my breath.
See my son. Hear my son. Say hello.
The two boys, donning WWJD bracelets, stopped in their tracks, the proverbial deer frozen on a perfectly manicured suburban lawn. They stared at my boy. Piercing silence. An abrupt about face on the boys’ part. The sounds of their footsteps trailing away. Was it because they saw my son shrieking during a fire drill while others laughed at him? Was it because he talked to himself on the bus to cope with anxiety? Had they honed in on his “bracelet” of AUTISM, misunderstanding the label and forgetting to see the boy?
WWJD? I’m no theologian, but I believe he’d say hello.
Perhaps, I should have channeled MTV Real World meets Jesus’ righteous anger in the biblical market as he overturned the merchants’ tables. My voice would resonate across those suburban breezes, “He’d not only say hello, but He’d F@#king Say Hello!” Alas, my imagination is always more entertaining than my real life actions; let’s just say the boys weren’t the only glazed-eyes, deer-in-the-headlight sufferers that day. As I watched those boys walk away, stinging tears of rejection hit me. I attached a lot of other rejecting memories to the moment to add even more weight; it’s a real forte of mine.
As time passed, my anger channeled itself down comical pathways as I imagined starting a new jewelry line: HFSH!!! I’d expand my jewelry line to holy megaphones where I’d shout the good news from all the rooftops of the land: HFSH!!! I’d decorate my well-used wine glass with a charm: HFSH!!!
I wish this story included some type of stirring educational bridge that I created to bring the boys together in brotherly love, the kind of moment that a Lifetime Original movie would cue with melodramatic music playing as the boys run off to swing together, smiling through wind tussled hair and saying, “I want to get to know you better!” Their mom would come out, and we’d sip lemonade and eat bonbons together. We’d gently rock on a porch swing, all while we pridefully gazed at our delightful sons frolicking along suburban hills of ease. She’d ask me questions to understand my son’s differences, while also saying, “Our kids should get together again!” I’d be balanced and positive, explaining my son’s differences and ways to connect with him. I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed in my own sorrow and pity wheel. I’d advocate brilliantly and calmly for my son. Basically, we all wouldn’t be so terribly human and fragile.
Looking back on this moment from many years ago, I see the event with greater clarity. Two scenes in interplay: my son happily playing outside, reaching out in social overture; two other boys ignoring him and walking away. Should I attach to the joyful intent of my son’s initiation? Or should I attach to resentment that others don’t respond in the ways I wish they would? One thought will fill me with joy and buoyancy; one thought will hold me hostage in anger and helplessness.
It is easy to get bogged down in all of life’s details, as I’ve often done, hyper focusing on the peripheral distractions--rejection, fear, sadness, and anger. I can rant about boys who ignored my son. I can rant about expectations and WWJD bracelets. I can rant at myself for being so caught up in my own pain, so intensely sensitive to any rejection, as if my son’s autism should give him and me a free pass from the realities of life.
As the pages of my life’s story progress, I’ve gotten better at seeing. I’ve gotten better at feeling. I’ve gotten better at being, simply being in my moments, however they present themselves. I’ve gotten better at supporting my son in his journey of many, many hellos. While it feels far better when others can meet his hellos with enthusiasm--and we are surrounded by people who do--I got better at not letting others’ reactions skew what is the far more beautiful view.