I am the mother of an 11-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism and a love for magic, levitating, yo-yo’s and recreating things he’s seen on YouTube. He makes me laugh and cry harder than any of my other children. Over the years I have grown pretty thick skin. I rarely notice the stares if he loses it in public. I am mostly used to the judgment. I have been told by a stranger at Costco that I should have left him at home when he pushed his sister. He has been nudged by the boot of an unknown man and told to “mind his mother” when he was pitching a fit on the floor. When I locked him out of my car in the parking lot of a mall because he was hitting me, the woman in the car facing mine took off her sunglasses to glare and shake her head at me (I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear). To be certain, I am not impervious to these occurrences, but they have become a part of life to some degree; my new normal if you will.
But what I cannot handle, what absolutely dissolves my resolve and shakes me to the core is when someone shows me kindness. Heaven help us all if a stranger stops and asks if I’m alright or if I need help, or even worse, tells me I’m doing a wonderful job as a mother. I might actually drop and shed every last tear in my body. I can be strong and keep a stiff upper lip. But look at me with concern on a bad day and ask how I’m doing, and you might literally witness my complete and utter undoing.
There are many things in life that I do not know. But the one thing I do know is this: impulsive judgment without understanding gives rise to anger and bitterness. It builds walls and leads to retreat or retaliation. Love however, can undo and rebuild in one swift movement. It can pluck you out of your small world and drop you into the foreign land of another’s struggles. In a world confused by what color lives matter, who can use what restroom, and which politician will cause the end of the world, if we do not respond with love, we will leave only emotional casualties behind.
Consequently, when we find ourselves on the receiving end of unfair judgment, we are left with a choice. We can wallow in the pain, playing the part of a victim. Or we can choose to release ourselves, and with gratitude, turn our focus to the goodness surrounding us. We will see what we choose to see. Even though I have, at times, been enraged by people’s cruelty, it cannot compare with the love that has humbled me over and over again. I have seen my son bite his teacher and draw blood, and then watched them walk hand and hand into school. Friends and family have searched for and then cooked meals that are free of the fifty billion allergens we avoid, just to give me a night off of cooking, or to make sure that my son has a special treat at family dinners. Teachers at his school have given up their personal time so that my husband and I could get away for our anniversary. I have received phone calls from school because one of my other children had unbeknownst to me, taken the needs of a physically disabled student upon himself, and was carrying the child’s backpack to class every day. My dad regularly drives an hour each way to take my son to a movie so that I might enjoy a quiet morning in church alone. Finally and perhaps most importantly, I have been on the receiving end of the unconditional love of my son. No matter how many times I lose it, or become irritable with him, or feel like I’m going insane, he tells me every night at bedtime without fail, “Good night, I love you. You’re special to me. I think about you in my heart. I think about you in my peace.” I don’t really even know what it means, but it’s beautiful. Some nights, I brush over it, because I’m just so excited for him to go to bed. But when I stop and think about it, I can’t really think of anything nicer that anyone has ever said to me. And once again, I am undone. Love has overcome the anger and frustration of the day and released me one more time from the snare of judgment (me toward myself this time). I settle in for the night and fall asleep with the words of Mother Teresa in my heart, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”