Once upon a time, a baby boy was born.
In a small apartment in Brooklyn, New York, people came to welcome the infant.
A young man named Anthony.
A 16-year old girl named Adua.
Carefully, they smiled at one another across the room.
Two years later, they were married.
They had six kids.
Their six kids had more kids, and in the way these things often happen, the family tree grew lots of branches.
Last week we called our son Jack to tell him his grandmother had passed away.
Jack has autism. He is eighteen.
He hates to talk on the phone. He answered in a huff. He explained he was playing Pokémon Go and curtly asked what we wanted.
He’d been at his college program for three weeks. He was happy.
We told him we’d pick him up, but he interrupted with an announcement.
“No. I will take the bus.”
He went online. He bought a round-trip ticket.
He scheduled an Uber to get to the station. He texted to say the bus was delayed. He told me he bought some snacks to eat while he waited. Gatorade and a bag of Skittles, because Skittles are his favorite.
For as long as I can remember, when it came to this boy and his autism, I wanted a crystal ball to predict the future.
Last week I watched my husband write a eulogy to honor his mother. His eyes were misty and sad. Every once in a while he read a passage out loud, and in his voice, I heard a small boy talking.
I saw my four sons carry a casket, the weight as heavy in their hearts as in their hands.
My tall daughter stood alongside her cousins, and one by one they gently placed flowers where a headstone will soon go.
Grief is stupid. It is pure sadness and despair. It’s bad enough that grown-ups must endure it. Watching your children do it too is akin to feeling your skin on fire.
Every Sunday, she cooked an elaborate dinner—lentil soup because every meal started with soup. Meatballs. Raviolis. Tomatoes from her garden and juicy yellow pears passed around the table.
His Grandma always rooted for him. Even when the whole English-as-a-second language-thing precluded her from understanding the diagnostic concepts of cognitive flexibility, executive functioning, and global delay.
None of it mattered to her. That’s the thing. They were simply black and white words on paper.
It’s easy to assume rooting for someone is like being a cheerleader—all sparkly pom-poms and glittery applause.
It’s not. It’s quieter. It’s gentle questions about school and stocking the pantry with Oreos and never demanding a hug because hugs were sometimes more than this boy could give.
I always thought a crystal ball would solve my problems. It would give me the answers.
But the truth is I wouldn’t have believed it anyway. I wouldn’t have believed my son would one day graduate high school or we’d find a college program or he’d connect with others and experience real emotion.
I wouldn’t have believed it because all the research and doctors and paperwork told me otherwise.
Maybe there is a good reason we can’t predict the future. Maybe it’s because we would miss the mostly sparkling magic slippery riddle of our lives in the shape of near misses, coincidences, and colorful blocks stacked into high towers.
He took a bus home.
He stood before her casket.
He openly wept.
With all these words, I tell you one thing and one thing only.
Anything is possible.
Life, death, grief, progress, hope, pride.
This is the air we breathe.
Life is full of a million special moments, and a thousand small hurts, all mixed up with tender mercies.
Which is a stupid way of saying growing a family is messy and ordinary and terrifying.
We work hard to make sense of what is expected of us, and who we actually are.
We worry about what’s coming, what’s next, what we should do after the thing we just did.
We try to predict the outcome, the risks, the possible drawbacks to every decision.
It’s only when we look over our shoulder that we begin to understand it at all.
He called her Grandma.
Her birth certificate read Adua.
This boy, this family, this bus ride, this story.
All because of a baby born in Brooklyn.