A repost of something I wrote many years ago on another blog, when I was first facing the reality of having a child with undetermined special needs (he was later diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder). It still speaks to me now as I face difficult situations… or emerge from them and wonder how I survived. I think we are stronger than we give ourselves credit for!
One of my favorite authors is Corrie ten Boom. She was a Christian who truly lived by God’s command that we love one another. That was tested by the fact that she also lived in Holland during the time of Nazi occupation. She and her family helped hide Jews in their home and were instrumental in organizing the Haarlem underground that saved the lives of countless people. What an amazing, inspiring woman. She makes me want to be stronger, to try harder. I wish I could have met her.
In her book, “The Hiding Place”, she tells a story from her youth. While this tale is about strength in the face of death I think it is also applicable on a broader scale. As a teenager Corrie had witnessed the aftermath of grief after a small baby in her neighborhood had succumbed to illness. It left her young mind feeling deeply upset, confused and afraid. All those feelings tumbled out at the end of the day when her father came to tuck her into bed:
During a recent visit to the National Zoo my 7-year old found an unexpected friend in the Sea Lion exhibit. We were there early, before the crowds arrived, and the beautiful creature decided it was time to play. It was an incredible experience, or as my son put it, “THE BEST THING OF MY LIFE!!!”
UPDATE May 9, 2014: Sophie the sea lion was unexpectedly found dead this morning. She was only two years old. This is a terrible loss, and my thoughts are with the entire Smithsonian family. She was a beautiful, playful animal who brought great joy to those who visited her. My family is absolutely devastated. I am so glad we got to see and play with her one last time just two weeks ago. Thank you for being our friend, Sophie. We will miss you so much!
(How hundreds of students reached out in gratitude to a beloved former teacher in the days before his death.) Every year around Valentine’s Day, and in the spirit of Random Acts of Kindness, I try to find a way to reach out and do something kind and unexpected for someone. Quite often it is to say “thank you” to someone from my past; someone who had a positive influence on my life and might not even know it. Several years ago I had been thinking a lot about my high school English teacher, Raymond Goss. I have always enjoyed writing, but rediscovered a passion for it when my youngest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum disorder. I started blogging to find an outlet for my emotions, and somehow that ended up helping other people who read my words. I recalled being in Mr. Goss’s class and how he really enjoyed & encouraged my writing. One time he actually got quite giddy about a unique paper I wrote, jumping up and down in his chair, exclaiming, “YES!!! YES! THIS is what I wanted!!!” I wondered what he would think if he read any of my new work. I wanted to tell him that he made a difference in my life and that I thought of him every time I wrote.
During that time old high school friends had begun to reconnect on Facebook, and Mr. Goss often came up in conversation as we reminisced. He was one of those amazing teachers that got students excited about learning and about life. They appreciated his energy and passion, his unique view of the world, and the fact that he could teach with equal levels of earnestness the symbolism of Dr. Seuss or Dante’s Inferno. Despite his occasionally crusty exterior he was described as, “My favorite teacher”, “The best thing to happen to English”, “My inspiration for becoming a writer/teacher”, and “The only person I felt I could talk to”. One student wrote, “He was just one of the coolest teachers I think I’ve ever known. Even when it wasn’t about English or Literature, he was teaching about so many things.” Another said, “We LOVED Mr. Goss!! Who else could discuss how important it is to have your glass of milk so cold it almost hurts? Or read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Are You My Mother?’ to you and put it on your senior English exam?”
I had heard whispers that Mr. Goss was battling an aggressive form of cancer, but I was not sure if that sad news was supposed to be public knowledge. It increased the urgency of my desire to contact him, but I did not wish to invade his privacy. I waited many months for the opportunity to reach out to him, all the while a feeling of desperation growing inside me. I wondered if he knew how many lives he had touched, or how many students viewed him as a crucial positive influence on their education. I was sure that those students who sang his praises on the internet would be devastated to learn that they could no longer tell the man himself. I decided that it would be an utter tragedy for Mr. Goss to die without the possibility of knowing how many students spoke so highly of him; without knowing that he had made such a difference.
I am what you would call wide open. If I am in pain I don’t ignore it, I EMBRACE the pain… and talk about the pain to anyone who will listen. I think that it is important to explore our feelings in order to grow and learn from our life experiences, painful or not. I also hope that by sharing my experiences they may be a help to others. I HATE those taboo subjects that no one is supposed to bring up. We have WAY too many of those in my family and I find it exceedingly dysfunctional. I think that we give those painful & awkward things even greater power over us by keeping them hidden. Yes, I know that everyone processes emotions differently, I get that. I just have a hard time when someone brings up a touchy subject and is greeted with an uncomfortable SILENCE. *cricket*cricket*
I have encountered a LOT of this lately when I bring up the subject of my youngest son’s Autism Diagnosis. This has been a life changing event and it has greatly impacted the life of my family– in ways both good and bad, I’ll be honest. So I tell people. I am NOT ashamed. I want them to know about our life so that I can help raise awareness and increase sensitivity. I want them to know WHY I may not attend certain social functions or keep cancelling plans. I want them to know WHY my son (or other children with special needs) acts the way he does so people don’t feel the need to secretly gawk. I want them to know that when they see a child having a meltdown in a grocery store it would be more useful for them to offer to hold open a door, not whisper about “out of control brats & poor parenting”. I want to help reduce prejudice & fight a lot of misinformation out there. And also I just flat out like to talk… and this journey has give me a LOT to talk about!
So Autism is obviously one of my major topics of conversation. (By the way, it is a REAL mood killer at parties!) When I first joined Facebook waaaay back when I reconnected with a LOT of people from my High School. In the process of “catching up” I told many of them about our journey. I said something to the effect of, “I am currently staying at home with my 2 boys ages 2.5 and 4 (only 17 months apart!!), one of whom has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. It has changed our lives… and also opened some new doors for me. I am becoming active in disability advocacy and special needs ministry. I facilitate a support group for parents at my church (as a a layperson, but it is good to get to use my seminary training somehow!) and it has been an amazing experience. I am also helping the church start a special needs ministry for the kids and I hope to work in a related area once the kids are older. ”
So I put myself out there, took the time to tell people what is going on with me, and I also took the time to ask about what is going on with them, too! And you know what I got all too often? SILENCE. Continue reading