-- George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon
We made it to church this morning. Although we are now fairly regular about attending, we still don't go every week, and that's just fine with me. My attitude is slowly improving about the whole experience, despite my general dislike for organized religion, and my fear is beginning to fall away somewhat about letting Erik go to find his way in that particular environment. It just feels right. It is what I fought for.
We are now attempting to get there early enough to enter through the front doors so Erik can greet the greeters and other members of the congregation like the other children do. It feels gloriously normal. From there, we take a detour back out of the sanctuary and locate Marla, Erik's personal caregiver, to drop him off. This morning she mentioned she might take Erik into the sanctuary during the service for the very first time. Brian and I looked at each other and voiced our surprised approval.
This morning's message was about patience. The word was defined as the ability to live for the here and now, even in the middle of the incredible mess that life sometimes is, instead of trying desperately to control what we cannot and rushing to get to the next perfect thing we desire to do or be. It was explained how even the story of Christmas has been so sanitized and idealized that the pain, struggles, and heartache that accompanied and even helped bring about the miracles have nearly been lost. And how we might relate to it and find even more hope in the story if we know the chaos and the mess that went with what truly happened. Because we live in mess and chaos a lot of the time.
Part of my own personal mess includes the struggles with isolation and heartache that come with having a child with some very bizarre special needs. We have occasionally simply been forgotten and excluded in the past, even at church. Now that we are included as much as possible, things are still messy. For example, it rips my heart out to watch the other children gather at the front of the sanctuary for the children's moment during the service each time we attend. I'm getting accustomed to it and even enjoy it a bit, but it always stings my insides knowing Erik is unable to participate.
Today, though, the door to the sanctuary opened, and Brian whispered, "Here comes Erik." I turned to see his little face bobbing in the group of other children. Marla sat down with him on the edge of the group nearest the door. Erik seemed slightly anxious and hell bent on loudly repeating "Happy New Year" to whomever would listen for some reason, but Marla whispered in his ear, and he finally became quiet. His eyes were wide, and he looked up at the lights and then around at the faces of the other children. When coins were dropped into a metal bucket to fund meals for the hungry in our community, the sound caused Erik to cover his ears in alarm. However, he remained sitting on the steps with the other children. The steps he has never touched before. The steps where I once stood in my polka-dot dress to be baptized. The steps where I waited alone in an empty sanctuary for Brian to see me for the first time in my wedding dress. The very same ones. Now Erik had a place on them with everybody else. Finally. My heart swelled with happy ache.
I felt hot, embarrassing tears welling up in my eyes, and I tried to will them away.
As the children finished their portion of the service and they were told to leave for their age-appropriate programs, Marla pointed us out to Erik. By this time, the tears were quietly flowing from me like rivers. They ran down both cheeks and the front of my neck into my sweater. There was no stopping them now. We began waving at him. Erik was obviously surprised and smiled back as he was led past our pew. The people around us smiled and glanced back at us, too, not knowing our story but obviously appreciating our unusual, unbridled enthusiasm. From there, he apparently spent the majority of his time in the children's program he would normally be part of. The very program that has not been possible for him in the past because of his hearing. By Marla's side, he had very little trouble this week.
We gathered our things after the service and found Erik and Marla. As we turned to leave, I threw my arms around Marla (something I do not normally do) and hugged her tightly. I then plucked one of the last shortbread cookies from a tray for Erik, and we made our way outside. Erik squinted his eyes tightly shut as Brian held him up to the rope hanging down from the church bell, and Erik gave it a few tugs, filling the air with bold, joyous clanging. I made small talk as I fought persistent tears and marveled at how completely wiped out I felt. I laughed out loud at this and sighed.
I was a happy mess.