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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hey There, Joe

Hey there, Joe.

I almost started asking you How are you doing today? when a second later I chuckled to myself because I know you'd answer Fine.

Your answer is usually the same, no matter when I ask.  Matter-of-fact, straight to the point, as few words as possible; that's you.  I actually appreciate that about you--the fact that when you give a straight answer, there's no malice in your voice, no teasing, no sarcasm.  What I hear is what I get.  So I comment that I feel tired every morning because I get up early, and you reply with Go to bed earlier, and we all laugh because it's funny, but we know that it's true and you were just speaking it out loud, plain and simple.  I appreciate that about you, you know.

I know you adore sameness.  And I appreciate that about you, as well.  There's a comfort in your daily routine, and you do it well--rising in the morning, personal hygiene, breakfast, and the rest of your day.  It has been hard on you recently, I know, with everyone's schedules changing, with your brother Jake occasionally having to sleep at odd hours in the bed next to yours, hindering your routine a bit.  That messes with your own schedule, but you've handled it well.  You don't say much about it; actually, you say nothing at all.

Nothing--such as the time I came into your bedroom and saw that the fitted sheet on your bed was ripped.  And I took it off and noticed that spring sticking up out of the middle of your bed.  And I asked you How long have you been sleeping like that? and you answered I don't know.  Probably a long time, yet no word from you.  No complaint, not about the ripped sheet, not about the spring that had been sticking into your back or your side, probably for weeks or months.  And I appreciate your quiet peace at having a bed to sleep in, no matter its condition.  You were content.

You're also happy to help wherever this household needs it--laundry, kitchen, cleaning, but usually the kitchen.  You peel potatoes, dry dishes, set the table, put things away...  I love that Pasta Day each week typically consists of me totally forgetting about dinner, and you pulling out the sauce and the pasta, and the meatballs, and putting everything together on the stove, even cooking up the pasta and getting the meal served.  I know especially that if it's one of your favorites, you help without asking.

You even help me in our garden, whether it's digging holes to plant tomatoes and peppers, or harvesting those tomatoes--especially harvesting tomatoes--or helping spread straw over the strawberry plants come autumn.  My garden is a great excuse to get you outside, to  change up your routine a bit and get you into the sun, and do a little manual labor in the fresh air.  You do all of this, usually without balking.  You could, by your very actions, teach others a thing or two about willingness to help a household run smoothly.

In all of the sameness that I attribute to autism, I appreciate that you're still willing, with a little nudging, to try new things from time to time.  Although you never expressed like for bowling, you went along with our friends and us to the local bowling alley, and you went with Grandpa and Grandma, too, and you were good

I remember that time you scored a 200+ game, mostly strike after strike, that ball going straight down the lane and into the pins, and you showing your excitement as you usually do, fingers close to mouth, a lopsided grin expressing pleasure. 

I love that you came, and tried, and you became secure in the sameness of that routine, for all those years, every Tuesday.  Maybe it was the pizza for dinner after bowling; you sure do love pizza!  But you bowled with us, week after week, and I like to think that you enjoyed those games.

I appreciate that every now and then, you surprise me--and all of us--by pushing your own self out of your comfort zone.  Instead of a nudge from one of us, you decide you're going to do it--or you have to do it.  Like Isaiah's birthday party at the climbing wall, and you told me I think I should go, and me wondering what should meant to you.  Did you feel obligated to go?  I remember feeling that it would be easier if you stayed home that day, instead of me watching you watch all the kids climbing that wall and feeling that you were left out yet again, on the outside looking in, wondering if you felt that same way, the yearning to be a part of something but too scared to articulate it.

Then when I glanced over at you again, Danny was helping you get that harness on, and then you climbed up to one hold, then another hold, and you were halfway up and I took a picture with my throat choked with tears, not ever realizing this was why you had to come

For a few moments, up there on that wall, autism didn't exist, and you were climbing right along with all the other kids.  It seemed you were climbing above, and beating the disability, climbing over it and winning the battle, just once.

And I cried. You belonged, there in that moment, one kid with all the other kids, just kids, no differences, no disability, no struggle.  Just a bunch of kids climbing a wall.

No one looked at you strangely, or watched you pace back and forth and wondered what's wrong with that kid.  No one asked you a question, then asked it again and frowned and wondered why you were so rude to ignore him, to not even acknowledge that a question had been asked.

I cry in other good times, too, but you don't see.  I cry when others go out of their way to make sure you are included, or comfortable, or safe.  When certain men at church come up to you and say Hi, and expect no response, but continue blithely on with statements about how nice the day is, or what's going on in the world, and they may slip in a question but they're not offended if you give no response.  I know you light up when you see them.  And a young man named Kenton, who took an amazing amount of time to convince you to take a ride in his World War II Jeep, cajoling, persuading until Dad came with you and you both had the coolest ride ever.

And there are those precious younger folks who purposely invite you to take part in their card games, who make sure you have a seat at the table, ensuring you're there with them, or with the group, participating.  Kids named Michelle and David, Abiyah and Brianna.  And there was the young woman named Renee, who was ready to rush to your defense on the Frisbee field when a guy got in your face then  made some comment about your less than typically developed brain.  I love these people, and I know what every single one of them has done.  Their seemingly insignificant acts of kindness are immense, colorful bursts of fireworks of praise and worship to a God who allowed you to be this amazing person that you are.

One day, I'll be able to talk with you, a deep conversation about you and your struggles and your amazing brain and how you think and what you were thinking in all those times I could only wonder.  But for now, I'll take those moments, every single moment of connection, and thank God for each one.  Right now, I'll take one picture out of a thousand, when your eyes connect with mine, and your smile is genuine and real, and I know, just for a moment, you looked and you saw me, truly.

I will always love you.  I will always thank the Lord for you.

Talk to you later, son.