By Barb Arland-Fye
We sat at the dining room table after a birthday dinner of pizza, salad, cake and Dairy Queen and watched Colin, our 34-year-old son, unwrap the first of his presents. Steve used recycled boxes to store the gifts and the first one, a Star Wars wallet, was tucked inside a Security Envelopes box. Colin smiled but did not open the box. He exclaimed, “Security Envelopes” and moved on to the next gift!
He didn’t know the box contained something other than Security Envelopes; we had to tell him to open the box. The way his autistic mind works still takes us by surprise sometimes. All of us laughed — Steve, our younger son, Patrick, Colin and Amanda, the supervisor for Colin’s special needs services. It felt so good to laugh on March 25 after a yearlong Lent of COVID-19.
The next gift he opened was a one-decade Holy Land Military Rosary that I purchased from Father Bill Kneemiller. Colin thanked me and asked if he could give me a hug. More presents to open, nothing extravagant, but he received each one with joy. A painting of Darth Vader, a set of four Star Wars jigsaw puzzles, a shower brush, noise-cancelling earphones, jeans and a shirt and the final treasure: a boxed set of “Toy Story” movies. Patrick’s gift to Colin was still in shipment; we cannot wait to see the look on his face when it arrives.
My memories of Colin’s birth have grown fuzzy. I remember feeling a sense of euphoria seeing this tiny miracle from God who entered the world quietly, not crying because he had fluid in his lungs. I did not realize anything might be amiss, even though medical personnel in the delivery room placed an oxygen mask over my face and one over Colin’s face.
His autism diagnosis came the month before his 3rd birthday, a diagnosis I struggled with mightily. Somewhere along the way, a friend gave me a small book about the meaning of gifts, perhaps as a reminder to appreciate my son as a gift. That was not the challenge. I loved him to the core of my being but could not see autism as a gift and longed to dig deeper into the wrappings, to uncover the true gift.
Sometimes I see myself as one of Jesus’ clueless disciples whom he asked to keep watch with him during his agony in the garden. Even though his disciples followed Jesus closely for three years and embraced his teachings, they didn’t get the big picture. They didn’t understand what Jesus was asking them to do or why. That would not happen until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In retrospect, I welcomed the birth of our son Patrick, seven and a half years after Colin’s birth, as a substitute gift to make up for his older brother’s autism. As a typical child, Patrick’s milestones would make up for all of those I missed with Colin, or so I thought. My expectation placed a heavy burden on Patrick.
Slowly, God helped me to open my eyes and to discover the true gifts of the sons with whom he blessed Steve and me. On Colin’s birthday, we posed for a photo to share on Facebook, while singing his favorite song “We are the mighty Fyes.” Patrick dreaded singing that song we made up when he was a young child. On this birthday, however, all four of us sang it with enthusiasm. We had opened the “Security Envelopes” box and discovered the true gift, our family.
(Contact Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)