By Barb Arland-Fye
Two weeks before Christmas my son Colin found a hidden gift that tops his wish list. “Guess what Mom and Dad,” he told us excitedly. “Santa brought me a 2019 Michelin Road Atlas!” Why would Santa drop off a Christmas gift early, we asked Colin. “I don’t know,” he said. The question didn’t need an answer. His belief in the goodness of Santa Claus is all that matters.
The bigger questions: Why does a 31-year-old man with autism believe so fervently in Santa Claus? Does Colin understand and appreciate the meaning of Christmas? My husband Steve and I may never know the answer to the first question, this side of heaven.
But we can answer the second question here and now. Colin believes in and loves Jesus Christ and understands that we celebrate the memory of his human birth each Christmas. Colin told us that his favorite part of Christmas is attending Mass on Christmas Eve and singing the hymns. His favorite Christmas season songs: “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Away in a Manger, “The First Nowell” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Steve thinks that Colin loves the rituals of the religious and the secular holiday because of the happiness he has come to associate with Christmas. In a commentary about the Scripture from Luke’s Gospel that will be proclaimed during the Christmas Mass at Dawn, the author reflects on the role of the shepherds in discovering God’s light in the infant Christ.
“The shepherds, one of the lowest classes of people, are akin to transient migrants who live on the periphery of society…. Was it that bunch of itinerants who attended the premiere of salvation in Bethlehem? What about the less stable parts of our own lives? Might the unsteady, insecure part of humanity in us be more sensitive and open, less resistant, ready to receive a change in life, the good news of salvation that comes from outside the well-established, protected self?” (“Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word” 2019)
I see my first-born son as one of the shepherds, a simple man so receptive to the good news, the joy of the Gospel. His faith is something I can only hope to emulate. This joy-filled embrace of faith has been years in the making through family and parish. It takes an understanding, patient village to raise a child in the faith.
In early childhood, Colin’s autism prevented him from appreciating Christmas. The change in routine, the crowds at church and at family gatherings, the opening of gifts, overwhelmed him. He began taking medication in his elementary school years to help with concentration. The first medication made him lifeless; he experienced Christmas that year like a zombie. But the following Christmas we celebrated a gift that brought us all great joy: a new member of our family, baby Patrick.
For Colin, his brother Patrick continues to be a gift that keeps on giving, in good times and in bad. Because of work, Patrick probably won’t be able to join us at our Christmas celebration with family in Minnesota this year. But we’ve assured Colin we will celebrate as the “Four Fyes” when we return home to Iowa. We have a roadmap for Christmas, far greater than any atlas.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)