Trying to Learn, Seeking to Love? Start Small. Always.

A mosquito lands on my leg, and I swat it away. I’m in our front yard, pulling weeds with my husband, Jonathan, and trying to understand my own confusion. It’s the perfect time of day to be outside, just before the sun sets in our small town in Alabama.

As I pull out the roots, I’m thinking about the conversation I just had with my mom and my brother Willie. I’m thinking about how, for all the knowledge we as humans have gained, there are still so many things we don’t know. For example, we don’t know precisely why one person has autism and another doesn’t.

If you’re a sibling of an individual with autism, you get that this isn’t an abstract inquiry. It’s a visceral, tugs-at-your-stomach kind of question — why not me? You’re not sure if knowing an answer would change anything; you just know that you’ve always carried that question with you.

And my confusion comes down to this: It’s a complicated thing, sometimes, to accept my brother exactly as he is and, simultaneously, to hope and work for better. For health and healing, and a more welcoming world.

***

As I keep pulling green shoots from the gravel, I think: It’s no wonder we haven’t ‘solved’ the bigger mysteries yet. After all, we don’t know the answer to so many smaller, everyday questions, either.

We don’t always know what one another needs; we don’t always know what we, ourselves, need. We get only occasional windows into one another’s minds and hearts … and, if we’re honest, we’d admit that we only occasionally clean our own windows well enough to let others see through.

In one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, A Severed Wasp, a character named Felix Bodeway says: “…The only way we can have contact with people is through the windows in our rooms. You get what I mean? And some people have more windows than others. And everybody’s windows get dirty.

So there have to be window cleaners. I’m one. At least maybe I will be one someday. That’s what I want to be.”

***

Thinking about figurative windows reminds me of literal ones. My husband has replaced two windows this week, seizing the opportunities afforded by two rainy days. Watching him work on this house of ours is an inspiration to me. When work on one task is derailed by weather or wait-time, he moves to another.

“It’s always the little things,” he says, appreciating each new detail and pointing out how it enhances the whole. He works with patience and precision, and every day, he makes progress.

We fix our house one day at a time. We learn and grow in small spurts. And it’s such a lengthy process, this seeking to love. There will always be more weeds to pull, more improvements we could make to our new (old) house. And there will always be further to go on this journey, more answers to seek out.

But I have to believe that the answers to the bigger questions will come through more clearly if we take the time to tend to the small shoots of love in our care.

If we take the time to call our siblings and parents and friends.

If we apologize when we’re wrong, and speak truth when it’s right.

If we give ourselves times of quiet, times to listen to the voice of love that whispers to us from within.

If we pull weeds, one by one, up from the ground.

If we are faithful to these small tasks, tending to them with love …

I can’t help but believe that we’ll help beautiful things to grow.

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When has doing a ‘small thing’ made a big difference in your life?

Join the conversation in the comments section below!

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Quick Announcements:

  • I’m honored to be a part of Kerry Magro’s just-posted list, “100 People Making A Difference for Autism“. Kerry and I are both columnists with AutismAfter16.com, and he has an incredibly inspirational story. Definitely check him out!
  • Next week, A Wish Come Clear is going live! I’m scheduled as a guest on Heather McCrae’s Neurodiversity Radio program next Monday, July 23rd, at 8p EST (7p CST). You’re more than welcome to tune in for the (free) show.

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My Greatest Teacher in the Art of Acceptance: My Brother with Autism

This is the 99th published post here at A Wish Come Clear. With the 100th post around the corner, I’m thinking about another milestone that’s coming up soon: my younger brother Willie’s 25th birthday. (Willie has autism, as well as myriad creative gifts; he came up with the name ‘A Wish Come Clear’.)

Willie has been talking about his 25th birthday since, well, the day after his 24th. At regular intervals, he announces, “On May 10, 2012, Willie will be 25 years old!” And then, of course, we gently prompt, “I will be 25″, and he says it right back, proudly,I will be 25 years old.”

Though Willie and I have vastly different personalities (for example, at any given meal, he eats his favorite item first, and I save the best for last), and our love for (and anticipation of) birthdays is one of our shared traits. Growing up in our house, birthdays were a big deal.

My mom started a tradition of hiding my gifts the night before my birthday; she’d leave a treasure-hunt trail lined with Post-It notes. Each Post-it contained a rhyming clue to the location of the next Post-It, and the next, and then, at the end, the final note, with the cache of presents and treasures. (Royal treatment? Absolutely.) Later in the day, we’d go out to supper as a family, singing and celebrating in high spirits.

L’Arche also makes big deal out of birthdays. Each community member gets a celebration, a night of songs, gifts, and dessert. On the anniversary of each person’s time at L’Arche (i.e., their L’Arche birthday), they are anointed with water by their fellow community members. This simple ceremony is an intimate thing. It is a time for us to affirm to one another: yes, you matter. Yes, our love for you is alive.

I miss Willie more than ever as his birthday draws near. As it happens, I’ll be speaking at a local church on his special day, giving a talk entitled, “Not A Burden, But A Privilege” (You can view the event flyer here.) And it’s bittersweet to be giving this talk on Willie’s birthday; bittersweet, yet somehow, entirely fitting. If it wasn’t for Willie, I’d never have been a part of L’Arche, or discovered the amazing gifts of the people therein. My life would have been so different, and I cannot wish any of it away.

***

Since I won’t be able to celebrate with Willie, I took my time selecting a gift for him. I scrolled through the books available on Amazon, looking for one he’d enjoy. Willie loves dogs, so I picked a pocket dictionary of dog breeds. I chose the pocket edition because he likes to carry books with him wherever he goes (another similarity between us), and also because I knew that he might tear the book to pieces, and I didn’t want to spend too much on something that might end up shredded.

It was surreal, shopping for a present with calm acknowledgement that Willie tears up even his favorite books when he’s out of control. I was purchasing something I knew might not last, and, miraculously enough, it didn’t bother me. I was taking Willie’s meltdowns into account, and doing so was a form of acceptance.

That said, being with Willie when he has a meltdown is terrifying. I wish, hope, and pray every day that there might come a time when he’s free of their tenacious grip. But as I hit “Purchase”, I felt the truth of what I can and cannot do. I can buy a good gift for my brother, but I cannot control how long it will last in his hands. I cannot change Willie, but I can love him.

It was a moment in which the Serenity Prayer became real for me, a moment in which I was granted the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Yes, I will struggle to accept Willie as he is. I will feel anger and terror and grief when he melts down. But those feelings are not my only truth. They are a part of how I feel, but they are not the truest part.

And so I plan to close my talk at St. Francis this week by saying what is most true:

Happy Birthday, Willie. I love you and I’m proud of you. You’re the reason I’m here tonight.

You, before anyone else, have taught me to see through eyes of love. Thank you.

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What’s been your greatest ‘acceptance challenge’ this week? Tell me in the comments!

If this post spoke to you, please share it with those you love.

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