By Barb Arland-Fye
Open books and atlases were spread across a couch, a steamer trunk and a section of the floor in our family room hours before the Easter Vigil. My husband Steve and I observed that our son Colin’s Saturday evening book ritual is inexplicably expanding. It takes a detective to unlock the mysteries of autism, and after 31 years of on-the-job training, Steve and I have not yet earned our detective badges.
“Colin, you need to put some of those books away; you can only read one book at a time,” Steve said. Besides, my parents were arriving shortly. They would need some place to sit!
Books have become a security blanket for Colin. He carries a sports bag filled with heavy tomes: Bibles, biographies of presidents and other historical figures, state atlases and more. This book bag accompanies him everywhere — to our house, to the center where he participates in skill-building activities, on road trips and, sometimes, on errands. When a staffer dropped Colin off at church for the Good Friday service, he had the book bag with him. I couldn’t stay for the fish fry afterwards and Steve was assisting with the meal in the parish kitchen. So, Colin had his books spread out in the gathering space where he and everyone else ate their meals. I cringed at the thought of him hogging up space!
Prayer, reflection and patient dialogue with Colin are necessary to figure out the source of his anxiety so that he can enjoy reading books and atlases without being chained to them.
While thinking about this latest development in Colin’s rituals, I accompanied Steve on a visit with a wonderful couple living in a complex for seniors. The wife suffers from memory loss. During our short visit, she worried about wet clothes in her closet. But the clothes were clean and dry. I wonder whether her clothes have become a security blanket for her, something to cling to in the frightening world of memory loss.
I thought about her distress, and Colin’s, during the homily that our pastor gave at the Good Friday service. His observations about “woundedness” stayed with me. God will judge each of us based on the times we inflicted wounds and the times we healed the wounds of others. Colin’s woundedness is autism; our friend in the memory care unit’s woundedness is her memory loss. Taking the homily’s message to heart means doing what I can to heal wounds, whenever possible. Spending time with Colin and with our friend, really listening to what they have to say and easing their anxieties could go a long way toward healing their wounds.
During the Easter Triduum, I had the opportunity to sing with my parish’s choir. The chant we sang at the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday prepared the congregation for eucharistic adoration. This powerful, haunting chant began with one voice. With each repetition, more voices were added. The chant concluded with the single, plaintive voice: “Stay with me; remain here with me. Watch and pray. Watch and pray.”
I imagined myself with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. All of the sudden, I realized that Christ — the God I turn to in need so often — was turning to me, in his time of need. That awareness, coupled with the observation about woundedness, impacted my understanding of the passion and resurrection of Christ.
I remain by Christ’s side when I strive to heal the wounds of Colin, our friend with memory loss and others in need of accompaniment.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)