(Benjamin wowing the crowd at Open Mic)
This will be the last post I do for a while about autism, but I couldn’t end the series without telling you about how Benjamin is doing now. Well, I am happy and proud and enormously grateful to be able to say, “Very, very well, thank you.” I wrote in my short story about grieving (after the diagnosis of autism) “the loss of the dreams and visions for her child that had begun in her heart with the first stirrings of life in her womb.” Yes, it’s true that, for a while, you do grieve the death of old dreams. But, soon, new dreams begin to take their place; hope begins to push away fear; and perhaps even, your new visions are truer and more benevolent, in that they are based more on the essence of who your child is rather than your own ego.
Benjamin is in college now after an illustrious high school career. Really, he didn’t care much for what he considered the silly drama of high school, but he did exceptionally well, both academically and personally. Not only was he at the top of his class, but he performed in the jazz band (playing guitar), played at Open Mic,and and often performed at benefits. He was a junior marshal and was chosen to attend Governor’s School which anyone who lives in North Carolina knows is a great honor.
I always told him he’d like college better than high school, and indeed he does. He is thriving there and has found a church where he is accepted and welcomed for who he is. (Shouldn’t all churches be that way?) Sure, he still faces challenges and sometimes struggles, but don’t we all? And, sure, his challenges are bigger than those of most people, but I think his heart is big enough to handle it. Really, to be perfectly honest, for him and for us, dealing with the cruelty, the judgment, and the ignorance of other people has been our biggest challenge. Not the autism itself.
And, by the way, Benjamin is an amazing guitar player. Now I know you’re smiling indulgently, thinking that I’m just another biased mother. Well, sure I am, but, really, he is an amazing guitar player. He plays everything from Bach to blues. My favorite, of course, is the version of Ave Maria that he learned just for me, sounding very much like Chet Atkins. I also love his own personal interpretation of Windy and Warm, which he arranged himself after listening to Doc and Merle Watson play it. Not to mention the incredible Little Wing, played in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Honestly, he sounds like he is channeling Stevie Ray. In fact, Chet Atkins, Doc and Merle Watson, and especially Stevie Ray Vaughan are his musical heroes. (When he was younger, he laboriously punched out a fan letter to Doc Watson in Braille. Never did hear back though).
Benjamin is MY musical hero.
(Benjamin and his Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar face)
Back when my children were very, very small, I had this little ritual that might sound kind of silly, but they LOVED it. After their baths, when I’d be drying them with a big towel, I’d throw the towel over them and say, “Oh my, look at this, a special package from Heaven! I wonder what it could be?” Then I’d pull the towel away a bit at the time. “Oh, look! What beautiful hair!” Then—“Oh my, what a perfect ear!” “Oh goodness, those eyes are the loveliest color I ever did see!”
By then, of course, they’d be giggling and they usually couldn’t stand the suspense any longer and they’d pull the whole towel off. Then, I’d gasp in delight and clap my hands and say, “Well, would you look at that—it’s just the son (or daughter) I always wanted! Thank you, God!” Yeah, maybe it sounds corny, but Benjamin and Ariel wanted to do it every single time.
Benjamin recently told me that if he could have the choice to be autistic or not, he would still choose to be autistic. He feels it has made him a stronger and more compassionate person. “I would choose to be just who I am,” he said.
And that’s exactly what I would choose, too. Benjamin—just as he is. Just the son I always wanted.
Thank you, God.