“There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect.”
-G. K. Chesterton
I had the luxury of going out by myself on a Saturday this summer. I could have gone anywhere or done anything. I was away from most of my responsibilities with several hours to spend as I wished. I ended up at a Target buying pull-ups for Ronan. So much for having some “me” time. I got out of the car and looked over my shoulder as I shut the car door. What would normally have been a quick glance turned into something else. I saw a young boy and his mother walking from their car to the entrance of the store. The boy was a little bit older than Ronan, maybe by one or two years. He looked typical, had dark wavy hair (like Ronan’s when it’s grown out) and seemed the type to enjoy sports and playing outside with his friends. He walked confidently next to his Mother. He looked toward me and stared. I couldn’t help but stare right back at him. Our eyes locked. A quick glance turned into a cold, long stare.
The kid was wearing a shirt I recognized instantly, and I couldn’t stop looking at it. It was the same shirt that Ronan has and is one of my favorites. It’s a soft dark, blue jersey t-shirt with a lighter blue collar. Ronan has been wearing his shirt a lot this summer. Seeing that shirt on another child triggered so many thoughts, questions and memories. I couldn’t break my stare, and for some reason, neither could the kid.
I got caught up in my thoughts as I stood there. The boy’s stare wasn’t filled with years’ worth of yearning for Ronan’s normal development like mine was. His was a fierce glare that screamed, “What are YOU looking at?” to which I would have meekly responded, “Do you know how lucky you are?” had we had the chance to speak. I was so caught up in my thoughts though that I was unable to move let alone speak to a stranger in the middle of a parking lot.
My eyes softened. His did as well as he slowed his pace while passing directly in front of me. I saw a piece of Ronan in this kid. I imagined Ronan a tad taller like he was. I imagined Ronan out with friends which this kid probably has plenty of. I imagined Ronan with me doing my errands and able to walk next to me like this kid was able to walk next to his mother. He wasn’t being clutched hand-in-hand to prevent bolting away in the parking lot but walked independently and confidently. As I watched the boy my mind filled with thoughts I could no longer stop. For being such a brief encounter it was incredibly intense. I was frozen in place with only my mind racing.
While immobile and in the blink of an eye, I saw Ronan’s past. Some of it was full of joy, but it was also riddled with pain and discouragement. I saw Ronan’s present, too. The present weighs so heavily in my heart because I knowingly carry too much worry. It’s worry that feeds off of the past and doesn’t allow me to go forward to the next step I need to take. Then, the boy unlocked his eyes from mine. I felt the feeling return to my legs, and I could move again. As our gaze lifted I saw pieces of Ronan’s future and was reminded of a dream I had about Ronan several years ago.
In my dream Ronan was a tan, tall, lanky teenager with tousled, wavy hair. He was standing near a grassy, green hill. He climbed on an outcropping of 2 or 3 large boulders at the bottom of the hill. I was happily surprised to see Ronan especially because he was looking at me with such clear eye contact. I felt overwhelmingly proud of Ronan as well as unbelievably humbled to see him so full of life and so happy. He was so big, so grown up and looked so healthy. As Ronan climbed the one of the rocks he glanced behind him at the hill and toward some lush green in the surrounding area. With arms stretched out and while nodding his head it felt as if something grand and triumphant had just occurred. Ronan stood so proudly and then waved at me. With a barely an audible whisper he said, “Hi, Mom!” Ronan smiled that amazing smile of his, and then I woke up.
Those last few seconds of the parking lot stare down reminded me of that amazing dream. It was a flash of what I want to see for Ronan’s future. It was a future full of possibilities. It’s a future with hardly a concern and certainly not as much worry as I carry today. It’s a future of leaving behind sad emotions and consciously ignoring what ifs. It’s a future I want to turn into reality.
Seeing that kid in the parking lot, and remembering that dream again, reminded me to live fully in the moment. Only then do Ronan and I truly connect. His abilities and actions tell me when my list of ‘To Do’ for him is too full and when I need to slow down. When I re-sync with Ronan’s pace I feel some of that excess worry of mine dwindle. I remember to take one day, one skill and one gain at a time. That’s when we both walk together and work well with each other. That’s also when I feel that a capable future is possible.
Turning dreams into reality doesn’t happen overnight. It hasn’t for us, but looking at Ronan and into those big, brown eyes of his is motivation for me: guide me now, watch me grow, let me always try and please, never stop believing in me.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.