Every morning as I sip my coffee, I peruse the headlines on the internet and scan a few of the articles that interest me. Last week I came upon an article that made me wish I had slept an extra twenty minutes and skipped the internet.
On the splash page of AOL there was a headline, “Woman writes outrageously cruel letter to mom of autistic boy.” The article showed the anonymous letter written about Max, a thirteen year old boy with autism. I’ll spare you the details, but “outrageously cruel” doesn’t begin to describe how reprehensible this letter was.
As I read the letter, I thought of my nephew Adam. Adam has Down syndrome and is autistic. He entered our lives twenty-five years ago, a frail little bundle with huge blueberry eyes that searched mine as I held him for the first time. His heart was so weak that drinking from his bottle exhausted him, requiring open heart surgery before he was a year old. Undoubtedly, his special needs were overwhelming to his birth parents, and they released him for adoption shortly after his birth. It took no time at all for him to claim his spot in the family…and in our hearts.
It’s Saturday, and I visit my sister at her farmhouse. Adam greets me with a grunt and a hug. He can only say a few words, but despite severe hearing loss in both ears, he understands almost everything that is spoken. When he sees me approaching the front door, he usually flings it open and runs away, but today he stays long enough to give me a quick hug and an air kiss. He hovers in the kitchen, grinding his teeth and shifting his weight from one foot to the other until my brother-in-law tells him it’s time to take the trash to the dump. He separates the bottles and cans from the paper goods and carries them to the work shop. And on Saturday, he helps his dad take the family’s refuse to the dump. It may easily be the only chore he does, but he does it without fail.
After returning from their errand, my brother-in-law resumes working on the outbuilding he is constructing for his tractor. Adam sits in a chair at the edge of the construction site, swaying to Toby Keith on the CD player and watching the cars and trucks pass by the house.
You may read this and wonder why God would put such an unfortunate human being on this earth. While it is true that Adam will not ever support himself, or drive a car, or cook his own meals, he adds to his family in ways that cannot be measured.
Adam teaches us perseverance. He hates wrinkled socks and whines and fusses if they are not perfectly smooth. Over and over, he pulls them off his feet and pulls them to his knees again in an attempt to calm his overloaded sensory system. Finally, when they are adjusted to his satisfaction, he can move on. How often do we slop together a job just to get it done, or give up when a task cannot be completed in a few moments?
Adam teaches us to be non-judgmental. Adam doesn’t size up people’s appearance. He doesn’t care how well-educated they are, or if what job they have, or how much money they have. He teaches us to let go of expectations and take people at face value, with no bias or prejudice. He doesn’t realize what a powerful lesson that is. But I do.
Adam teaches us to take time and laugh. He has a little game which nobody quite understands. Sitting next to me, he pinches his fingers together, touches his forehead between his eyebrows and then reaches out to touch mine in the same place. Back and forth, he goes, chuckling as if it is the funniest thing in the world. His laughter is contagious. I laugh with him, and my day is immediately better.
Adam teaches us unconditional love. During most of Adam’s life, my mother lived in the farmhouse with my sister and her husband. She was an integral part of Adam’s life and he adored her. When I visited my mother in her room, Adam would burst through the door and plop himself on her bed or on the floor in front of her television set. He did not interrupt. He did not ask for anything. He just wanted to be near her.
My mother loved Adam as much as he loved her. Night after night, Adam brought his pajamas to her room so she could help him get ready for bed. Helping him dress, she would evoke from him the only sentence I have ever heard him say. Signing at the same time, she would start him off, “Adam, I…”
Adam would sign back and yell to complete the sentence, “Love..you!”
During Mom’s last days at the Hospice House, my nephew Jason brought Adam by for a visit. He ran into the room, and plopped himself down in the recliner next to Mom’s bed. He was clearly confused by the surroundings, but he knew his Grammie was there. After a short visit, Jason said it was time to leave. Mom kissed Adam and started the routine, “Adam, I…”
“Love… you!” belted Adam. It was the last time he spoke to her.
For days after Mom passed away, Adam would stand at the door of her empty room, pajamas in hand, waiting for his beloved Grammie to help him get ready for bed. His silence spoke the emptiness that we all felt.
To the person who wrote that nasty letter on the internet, I am sorry. I am sorry you are so biased with your own prejudice that you miss out on the value of those different from you. I am sorry you are so filled with hate that you miss out on love. And I am sorry you will never know the wonderful lessons that Adam and those like him can teach. It is you who suffers most.