Jack participates in an aquatic program through school. Roughly two Fridays a month, the students with special needs are bussed to the YMCA, where they pair up with high school student mentors for swim therapy.
Have I mentioned how much I love our school district? Well, I do.
Jack loves to swim, so I knew the swim therapy would be a big hit. At Jack’s parent-teacher conference this week, his aide Julie told me a great story about his first day in the program. When the students returned to class after swimming, they ate lunch in the classroom. That’s when the following conversation occurred:
Jack [to Julie]: Do you love peanut butter?
Julie: Well, yes, Jack. I do.
Jack: I love peanut butter. I love swimming. [leans back in his chair, puts hands on belly] This is the LIFE!
Yes, Jack, it is.
A common symptom of autism is repeating movie lines or scripts. I’m sure Jack heard “this is the life” in a movie or television show, but its meaning struck a chord in him that resonates every day. Other lines he repeats frequently are “Today is a new day” and “It’s a beautiful day” and “Mommy, I love you sooooo much!” (That last one isn’t a movie line, but it sure makes me happy.)
Most of the lines Jack repeats regularly are happy. He’s definitely the glass is MORE than half full person. He still thanks me for taking him to ride Thomas the Tank Engine in September, and every little joy of his day is greeted with enthusiastic delight. When he walked into the school’s book fair and saw me, he yelled, “Mommy, you’re HERE!!!!” Everyone in the library laughed as he threw his arms around me.
Jack’s attitude of gratitude infuses our lives, and he sets an example that can be hard to follow in today’s jaded world. He doesn’t know about the tragic shootings at Ft. Hood or the nasty anti-Muslim reaction it has provoked. He doesn’t know about crooked politicians and greedy mortgage companies and high unemployment. He doesn’t understand why George has to go to work instead of staying home with him when he’s sick.
This is the innocence of childhood, and I want to protect it and guard it against corruption and sadness and the ugliness of the world. I will fail in this, and really, I should fail. Ignoring all the tragedy and badness of the world doesn’t make for a good adult. If you ignore bad things, they continue and often get worse. Think of how many people ignored the smoke from the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Think of how many people living in democracies don’t bother to vote when people living in dictatorships would die for the chance. Think of the homeless person who takes refuge in a church and is shunned for his shabby, smelly clothes.
Yet every one of these examples has another side. The camps were liberated. Women in Iraq now cast their votes. At least one cold, smelly, homeless person was taken to lunch after church by Jim and Tam Thompson.
So many adults spend too much time focusing only on the bad, especially now when the media takes such delight in saturating us with news of economic disaster, war, corruption, horror, and celebrity train wrecks. It's so easy to get sucked into believing that the bad is all there is in the world. Then, we start repeating the bad movie lines until we see that our glass is not only half-empty but drained dry of all water.
I prefer Jack's view of things. Borrowing a page from his book, I actively seek out things that make me happy, whether it’s delighting in a ladybug that lands on my sleeve, or taking a bite of glorious wilted salad made by my husband, or casting a vote for health services in our county, or making a meal for a family who needs it, or reading a delightful book, or receiving a story via email about the lost being found.
November is a brown, drab month (at least in the northern hemisphere). It’s the month of my birthday, and it has always annoyed me that November usually has the ugliest picture in calendars. This November, I challenge you to find an attitude of gratitude in all the drab and depressing. Find your own ladybugs, help lift up someone who needs it, participate in changing something ugly in the world.
If you have children, one way to begin teaching them a positive approach to the wide world of good and bad is to get them involved in a Christmas charity project. You can fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, drop toys in the Toys for Tots boxes, or serve Thanksgiving dinner at a local shelter. Whatever you do, do it with your children, let them pick the gifts out, explain why it's not a good idea to send toys with batteries to children living in remote villages far from Target. Help them learn not to take their blessings for granted and to share them with others who are less fortunate.
This IS the life...the only one we get. Let us grown-ups embrace it, like Jack does, and spread our own attitude of gratitude.