have soapbox – will travel
Two years ago, I had the honor of speaking at the kick-off to the Greater Boston Walk Now for Autism Speaks. I will never forget that night. There was an energy in the room that, even two years later, I still can’t begin to describe. It spilled into dozens of conversations that I had throughout the course of the evening – conversations with parents, politicians, donors, doctors, walk volunteers, Autism Speaks personnel, teamsters, corporate sponsors, aunts, uncles, grandparents – even a famous television anchorman who I am now proud to call a friend, though not remotely because of what he does, but who he is.
But of all the conversations that followed my speech that night, there is one that has stayed with me like none of the others. It crawled into my heart and has served to doggedly remind me that each of us who has the capacity to reach out and tell our stories – in whatever capacity we can, and whenever we can – must.
A mother had approached me as the evening was winding down. She walked over with her nine year-old son, who she quickly explained had been diagnosed the prior year. She had looked at me through tears and said, “I thought I was alone. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about what we go through.”
Since I couldn’t possibly think of what to say, I’d hugged her.
I’d written about the rest of our conversation in a post back in September of 2008.
She’d gone on to say that she felt badly that her son had been a bit ‘out of control’ (her words) while I was speaking. First of all, I assured her, I hadn’t noticed. Secondly, I reminded her that she was in the right place. “For heaven’s sake, my dear, no one but no one is going to judge your lovely son in THIS room.”
But there was more. And this is what has haunted me ever since that night.
“My husband,” she said out of nowhere, “He left us. He said this ..,” and she tilted her head nearly imperceptibly toward her son, who was feverishly flapping his hands, “was all my fault.”
The saliva in my mouth suddenly turned bitter. My voice was barely my own as I said forcefully, harshly, “Tell me you don’t believe that.”
I was angry. I was angry at the coward who laid blame and ran and I was angry at her for believing him.
“Tell me you don’t believe that,” I said again. It was all I could do not to take her by the shoulders and shake her.
She was crying. “He was really sick when he was a baby and I, I didn’t know and I didn’t…” Her voice was swallowed whole by a sob. She looked at me helplessly. Guiltily.
“None of this is your fault,” I told her. “You listen to me and you believe me. NONE OF THIS IS YOUR FAULT. You look at this beautiful boy of yours and you tell me that believing any of that nonsense will do him any good.”
We talked a while longer and eventually left the woman and her son talking with the doctor who had presented earlier in the evening.
Luau and I talked about her on the way home. Periodically one of us will still say, “I hope that woman’s OK.”
But I have not been able to stop thinking about her. Every day she seeps into my consciousness.
Well, my dears, it’s two years later. And guess who I saw at this year’s kick-off? Guess who came up to me this year grinning, with a son whose smile was bigger than hers?
“I had to find you tonight,” she said. “I needed to thank you.”
She told me that my words two years ago had been a turning point for her and her son. That she’d found help. That her son was thriving. That it still wasn’t easy, but that they were happy. That it was different now.
I was at a loss for words. Again.
So we hugged. Cause that’s what we do for each other. (If there’s one thing that this community knows, it’s that you don’t need words to have love.)
No one should feel as alone as that mom had.
No one should feel as alone as this mom did.
For the mom at the kick-off, it took one story. One person saying, “We live there too.” Just one. And everything was different.
Our stories – our lives are often dramatically different from one another. But they almost always share just enough similar thread to bind us together and make us feel less isolated.
Tell YOUR story.
You never know who might be listening.