You’d think it would have been, but the days that changed me came before.
Like the day I tried to fill out a milestones form at the pediatrician’s office and realized I couldn’t check any boxes.
Or the day a family member said the word “autism” and I laughed at her.
Or the day I was talking with a friend about the aforementioned comment, and, while she took a bathroom break, I decided to hop on her computer to find a list of autism symptoms. You know, to quiet that nagging little voice in my mind that said, “but what if…?”
Or the moment that immediately followed when I was met with a list of what I had thought were my son’s personality traits. I discovered, alone in my friend’s living room, not only that he had autism, but that I’d never known him at all–just a list of symptoms.
The last doctor who met with us that day was a neurologist who left to consult with the other two doctors (who had evaluated him earlier) before she came back to give us the news.
She told us he has autism. And she went on to talk–a lot. Who knows what she said. I just stared at my little boy, who was letting the corner of the room hold him upright at this point.
What would my baby look like next year? What would he look like in kindergarten? Middle school? Would he be able to go to college? Would he ever learn to cook a meal for himself? Get married?
And then I realized…I worked so hard for this moment. I wanted this diagnosis so much, so that he could get help. But I never wanted this diagnosis. And it ached. It ached ugly.
Our priest and his wife met us at home, and they’d made us dinner. They’re vegetarians, but grilled chicken for us.
Now, I often think to help people with food. It’s kind of my thing. But I think of it when someone has died. When a baby’s been born. I never thought how much it would mean at the end of a day that involved asking questions like, “Do you think our son will ever be able to talk?”
But they did.
And that was how I learned what the word “community” really means.
It’s not that we had never experienced someone supporting our family through a difficult time. We had–lots. But that was my lightbulb moment. Someone had seen our undiscussed pain and anxiety and went out to meet it with no words of platitude, just something tangible, just for the sake of love. That’s what community does. That is what the Church is supposed to do for one another.
People often ask me, what do you say? What do you say when terrible things happen? And the answer is nothing. You can’t say anything to make a neurological disorder go away, or cause me not to worry about his future.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Everybody has these pesty little menial needs. We all have to put on clothes, brush our teeth, eat, and get to work. And somehow, when you carry the heavy weight of loss or fear, those menial things are harder to accomplish.
Now, this isn’t *exactly* the situation referred to in James 2, but the chapter does point out the tremendous importance of meeting basic physical needs. Verses 15 and 16:
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
This is a chapter that admonishes its readers. I don’t mean to do that here; just to point out that in some cases, words are useless, but the body can still be ministered to. And in those situations, it’s better to attend to those needs than to literally speak words to a soul that can’t be talked down. Here’s a few ideas:
- Go with someone to a doctor’s appointment or test causing anxiety
- Bring over a pizza after kid bedtime (especially for those of us doing gluten-free for our kids…HOLY CRAP, DO WE LOVE PIZZA?!)
- Offer your kids’ hand-me-downs
- Pinch hit a time or two for a parent doing drop-offs and pickups
All of these things have been done for me, and they have been infinitely more powerful to bring peace to my soul than any words of wisdom could ever aspire to.
So, final word on it: if you don’t know what to say, do something else. Reach out in love with something that ministers to a physical need.
You may be surprised at how far it reaches beyond that.