By Barb Arland-Fye
One of my favorite places to walk is close to home along the Mississippi River on Canal Shore Drive in LeClaire, which is also a favorite spot for my son Colin. As we strolled along the tree-shaded shoreline last Saturday night, we saw towboats glide by on the river and truck traffic zoom above us on the Interstate 80 Bridge. Walking relaxes us. We become absorbed in our own thoughts, daydreaming. During this almost magical time, his autism seems to float away.
Colin and I have been walking together for nearly all of his 28 years on this earth. Before he learned to walk — a hard-fought skill he acquired at 19 months old — I took long walks with him in the stroller. Once he learned to walk, he never wanted to stop. I think it was and is cathartic for both of us. I remember summer nights years ago when we lived on a farm in Illinois and the two of us walked along the quiet road and looked up at the stars. Sometimes I’d wonder, is this heaven?
As we approached the end of Canal Shore Drive last Saturday night, I asked Colin if he wanted to turn around or keep going. “I don’t know,” he said, possibly wishing we could walk forever. But our husband/father Steve was back at home preparing dinner. On the walk back, at my initiative, we talked about Pope Francis and his new letter on care for creation. “What do you think it means to care for creation?” I asked Colin. “Protecting the environment,” he answered. Still absorbed in his own thoughts, he wasn’t much interested in discussing the fine points of the pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si.
For a moment I focused attention on all of the stimulating things around us: tree leaves rustling in the breeze; birds singing; happy voices of children and adults; colorful flowers emitting wonderful fragrances; the rippling movement of the river; the sound of trucks rumbling above on the bridge. An individual with autism can become overstimulated by his surroundings. I noticed Colin start to flap his hands as we were about to walk under the I-80 Bridge. He says it’s exciting to watch the trucks drive by. His excitement that night may have been in anticipation of an upcoming road trip to the Twin Cities with one of his staffers who help him to live as independently as possible in an apartment.
Re-directing his attention, I asked him what he liked best about the walk and he responded, “The trees, because they’re so full of leaves.” His response stirred memories of long ago when we’d be in the car together at the start of spring and he noticed, with great joy, the first buds on the trees. His excitement was contagious. Now every spring I take great delight in being alert to the appearance of tree buds.
I enjoy walks with the whole family — Steve, Colin and our younger son, Patrick. But my walks with Colin are a way for the two of us to connect, to remember and to cherish our time together. Pope Francis speaks of the importance of right relationships in Laudato Si, right relationships with God, with other people and with creation. Colin and I get to work on that every time we go for a walk.