Archive for April, 2012

To Give To the Light

April 26, 2012

In the past, during the month of April (which is Autism Awareness Month), I’ve written about our experience with autism—about helping Benjamin as he learns to navigate the world. And I’ve written a lot about ways in which he’s felt rejected by that world and about the importance of teaching our children to be accepting of those who march to a different drumbeat. In the past few months, I’ve written about the pain of seeing your child suffer and the heartbreak of feeling so helpless to stop the suffering. There have been so many times I wished I could rock Benjamin for hours like I used to. When he was small and didn’t yet have the words to tell me what he was distressed about, rocking was our way of connecting. It was something I could do that helped, and sometimes it was just as soothing to me as to him.

So now I want to talk about hope. The last nine months have been the most difficult months I’ve ever gone through, but also the most rewarding. Benjamin’s journey back to wholeness has been arduous, and unfortunately, much of the help from outside sources we were hoping for didn’t happen. So, as when he was small, I’ve often felt as though it was largely up to me (by the grace of God) to help him into the light. So much of our profound journey together would be impossible to describe, so I won’t try. A couple of posts back I wrote this, and it probably describes it about as well as I can:

In Benjamin’s journey back to wholeness, he and I have had a lot of conversations about the importance of being your authentic self, even when people reject that self. Indeed, my children will both tell you that the #1 Mommy maxim they heard from me throughout their lives is the importance of being true to yourself. Hard for all of us, but especially hard for an autistic person like Benjamin. As an autistic person navigates the world, they are constantly challenged to conform themselves to the world in ways that are often difficult and in ways that may not come naturally. So their struggle to conform, yet maintain that inner core of authentic self, can be exhausting. And often discouraging. Benjamin’s working hard to learn that balance.

 And in helping him, I’ve often been reminded of my own need to remember the truths I know about myself, but sometimes lose sight of when I let the world pull and push me off balance. That equilibrium is so easy to talk about, but so hard to achieve. And that struggle for balance, as I tell Benjamin, is something we all have in common. It’s something we all share–whether we’re autistic or not. The important thing is to not lose sight of who you are or the sense of your own beauty. And to remember always who you are capable of becoming.

I love the recent picture above, but not because Benjamin is standing beside a fancy car, looking like Mr. Success. (the Infinity was neither ours nor Benjamin’s, by the way!). I love this photo because Benjamin looks so genuinely happy. He was about to head for an interview there—his first—which went very well, although he didn’t get the job.

But he’ll he heading to an interview in Raleigh next week—his first long trip alone and his most promising interview yet (he’s already done THREE phone interviews at the company, so clearly they like him). I’m telling you that because I’d like to ask for your prayers and good thoughts for him, please. We are very excited, but a little nervous, too. It’s a big step for him…and for us.

Benjamin and I recently realized that it’s been nine months since he first got sick. For both of us, his transformation in that time has been so profound as to seem like a rebirth. So with his birthday coming up soon, we talked about how wonderfully symbolic it would be if he ended up getting the job around his birthday, making his recovery period a sort of nine-month gestation.

Four years ago, Ariel wrote a wonderful Mother’s Day tribute to me on the blog she had at the time. I’ve gone back to it during difficult times when I needed help remembering my own worth and value, which means I’ve clicked back to it a whole, whole lot. I love the poem she wrote as a part of it, and have realized that it has meaning now beyond what she intended. Here’s an excerpt from it:

“Both times she gave birth,
she did so naturally. Each contraction
was a fiery push and pull, the urge
to keep us close and the need
to grant us to the world in an excruciating exit.
In Spanish, to give birth is
“dar a la luz,” to give to the light.
When I learned the phrase, I said it over
and over in my head. Voy a dar mi niña a la luz:
I am going to give my child to the light.
I imagined both a sacrifice and offering,
the greatest favor and the greatest risk.”

I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say I’m a bit anxious about Benjamin’s big step next week. But, as I did almost 23 years ago when he was born, I am going to give my child to the light. Benjamin’s birth 23 years ago was difficult and painful, and his rebirth in the past nine months has been often just as hard. But now, as then, all the pain was worth it. Well worth it. And I’ve never regretted it for a second.

Hiking With Boogerman

April 18, 2012

Yes, it’s yet another post in the series “Remembrance of Hikes Past.”  It’s been a pleasant distraction of late to browse through the photos of the little home vacation (popularly known as “stay-cation) that we took back in November, 2010.  This time, we went to Cataloochee Valley which is now a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  A century ago, however, Cataloochee was a thriving community (which you can read about here.)

One of the main attractions of Cataloochee now are the elk, which were reintroduced to the park in 2001.  We enjoyed watching the young bucks playfight in the fields–I loved the clacking sound their antlers made as they played. I also loved the endearing furry butts of a mother and child elk we saw.  Another attraction there are the historic structures that remain from the settlement, including barns, houses, and two churches.  We found Palmer Chapel to be especially striking in the slanted light of late afternoon.

But my favorite part of our trip was, without a doubt, our seven-and-a-half mile hike on Boogerman Trail (including a bit of the lovely, if muddy, Caldwell Fork trail).  And, yes, it really was called the Boogerman Trail after Mr. Robert Palmer, who previously lived partway up the trail and owned the gorgeous forest there.  He was a shy and quiet man who acquired the moniker “Boogerman” as a child when on his first day of school , the teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.  “A boogerman!” he answered.  And he was known as Boogerman for the rest of his life.  As an adult, his long, rough beard and brusque manner often frightened children and made his nickname seem even more appropriate.

When I heard that story, I felt a deep kinship with Boogerman.  I was also a very shy and quiet child in a family who was quite the opposite.  In fact, I felt so unlike the rest of my family that I used to wonder if my parents had actually adopted me  rather than my oldest brother and sister (who actually were adopted).  And let’s face it–people who are outgoing are always viewed more positively than those that aren’t. Especially here in the U.S., I think.  When’s the last time you heard someone say, “I just love her—she’s so quiet and contemplative!”  Nope. It’s “I just love her—she’s never met a stranger!”

Anyway, maybe I was just projecting, but somehow I felt like I understood Boogerman.  So I was eager to hike the Boogerman Trail and to see where he lived in happy seclusion amongst the huge poplars that he never allowed anyone to cut.  I was hoping for (and got) a quiet and peaceful walk in that gorgeous old-growth forest, but I never expected to actually feel Boogerman’s presence.

But I did.  As we walked in the same forest he once walked, dwarfed by the towering poplars, I felt Boogerman’s presence so strongly that I was a little unnerved.  After all, I’d heard that people, in general, were not welcome on his property—-he loved animals and trees, but humans…not so much.  But, as crazy as it sounds, I really did feel as though he somehow knew who I was—someone not so different from him except for the fact that I still think people are worth the effort. Mostly.  But I still feel most comfortable with trees and birds and wildflowers that bloom in quiet, hidden forest glades.

I’ve taken hundreds of hikes in my life, but this is one that will always stand out for me.  For many reasons.  For one, because it was one of the last long hikes we took before Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man’s knee injury.  We’ve both missed our long hikes keenly.  For another, as I look at the pictures of that day, I see how much the troubles of the past year and a half have aged me.  I had hair back then!  And it was brown!  Much of what’s left of my once-thick but now sparse hair has turned gray.  But that, of course, is not what I’ll remember most.  No, I’ll remember the hike on Boogerman trail for the presence of Boogerman himself—how he walked with us a little ways under the towering poplar trees.  No, I never saw him, but I know he was there.

We were quiet that day at the end of the hike.  I think we both were contemplating what we’d seen and felt.  As I walked across Caldwell Fork creek, I paused to listen to the sound of the water flowing over the moss-covered boulders shaded by great thickets of rhododendron as the creek made its way through the lovely green forest.  I took a moment to thank Mr. Palmer (who no longer seemed like much of a boogerman to me) for protecting those grand old trees from the loggers ax so that we could enjoy them all these years later.  So that we could look up at them and know just how small we really are in this big, beautiful, wonderful world.


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