When my son Jack was eight, he was terrified of the wind chill factor. He worried about it constantly. He checked the weather on my phone, and obsessed about the temperature, and cried before school in the morning.
You see, Jack has autism.
He struggles with regulation and social inferences and filtering his thoughts. Also, crushing anxiety.
He constantly feels like he has one thousand ants crawling along his arms and legs, and he jumps around the room to shake himself free of their tiny footsteps.
He says exactly what he is thinking. He has no use for pleasantries, or chitchat. Small talk confuses him.
As for social inferencing, well, he doesn’t care who you are. I don’t know how else to put it.
You could be a United States Senator, or an Olympian gold medalist, or the kid bagging groceries. He would treat you all the exact same way.
He’ll ask you the very questions within his heart, if you let him. He holds nothing back.
This boy Jack, he doesn’t care about status, or money, or prestige. He has no ego.
He doesn’t long for wealth, or trophies, or his name on the honor roll.
It’s hard, though, for me to tell if he’s happy. I mean, he often seems satisfied, or pleased, or at times even content.
But he rarely experiences laugh-out-loud joy. His face doesn’t light up if you surprise him with his favorite ice cream, or suggest watching a movie he loves.
What makes him happy? I ask myself that a lot.
And when I’m not asking myself about his happiness, I am asking myself how to teach him the cultural norms and societal expectations that come easily to many, but are confusing for him.
You know, like the way we practice answering the phone with a friendly hello instead of what do you want, and that twelve cookies after dinner is plenty. I remind him it’s not appropriate to ask your karate teacher if she likes kissing “the French way.”
This is hard work, let me tell you. It requires many hours, and a lot of patience, and the ability to predict what might come out of his mouth at any given moment.
I certainly have the time, but my patience and prediction skills often run low.
To tell you the truth, some days I am tired of it all. I am tired of the practicing and the managing and the hours.
I just want to let him be, to eat and sleep and enjoy life as he chooses.
Better yet, I want to live that way myself.
After all, my son Jack isn’t always happy, it’s true.
But he is fearless.
And I wish I could be more like him.
I want to open my eyes early enough to see the sun rise from darkness.
And after admiring the brilliant orange sky, I’d like to eat something good for breakfast, like waffles with lots of butter and syrup.
I want to worry less about calories or carbs, and instead simply savor the delicious start to the day on a round white plate.
Imagine a life where you simply didn’t care what other people thought.
You didn’t care if someone thought you were fat/ugly/stupid/awkward.
He doesn’t care one little bit about what other people think of him.
What if we said what we mean?
Instead of all the small talk and banter, we could get right the heart of the matter.
I want to stop chasing happiness, and start chasing the truth.
The truth is, we are not meant to be happy all the time.
The truth is, we are all trying.
Being fearless is not easy. It does not come naturally. I think It is something you to work on every single minute of every single day.
What if we reached for the sun, and at the same time cherished the small, twinkling stars between our palms?
That’s what he does, you know.
He’ll admire your car, even as he hopes to drive one himself one day.
If you want to be fearless, you have to close your eyes tight and tell yourself you are bold and strong and good.
He is all of these things.
He is bold and strong and good.
He is a boy named Jack.
When he was eight years old he stood watching.
He wore a dark blue coat.
He held his backpack between his hands.
With tears in his eyes, he worried, and he wondered, and he tried.
After a moment, he opened the door, and walked into the wind.
Finding your way, even when it’s cold out. I think this is what it means to be fearless.
Jack-a-boo, why are you up so early today?
For the sun. It was glowing.