While impatiently sitting at a red light the other day, I told Tristan to blow the light so it would turn green. This was a game I played with both boys when they were little. From my vantage point in the driver’s seat, I could often see the lights for the opposing traffic. When their light turned yellow and then red, it meant my light was about to turn green. I would tell the boys to blow as hard as they could and almost instantly the light would change. I will never forget the wonder in their eyes. The awe as their mouths hung open. The belief in themselves that they were so powerful they could change traffic lights just by blowing on them. I don’t remember when we stopped playing this game and I don’t know what made me ask Tristan to blow the other day. I just know that without an ounce of hesitation, he did it. The light turned green and the smile I’ve come to love more than the sun, the moon, and stars spread from ear to ear.
I often look at Tristan in complete astonishment. Not because of his medical miracles, although those are quite impressive. I’m astonished because everything he does, he does with undeniable joy. Not happiness, but pure bliss. It literally exudes from his body. When he speaks, it’s as if he just can’t contain what he’s telling you any longer. Like he’ll explode if one more moment passes without him getting the words out. Everything he tells you is the most important thing he’s ever said. Telling you a banana is yellow holds just as much enthusiasm as telling you Garth Brooks spoke to him. A rainy day makes him just as happy as a sunny one. His favorite team winning a baseball game is met with the same reaction as a loss. This isn’t to say he doesn’t experience disappointment or sadness. He does, but he experiences it briefly and moves on almost instantly.
For all intents and purposes life has beat him down repeatedly. Before he was even born his body was already being assaulted. He was brought into this world seven weeks premature, with an extremely rare adult cancer. That’s right, not only did he have cancer in utero, he had an adult cancer in utero! His first year of life involved surgeries, chemo, scans, and so much blood work I’m not sure how his body could replace what was taken. He developed epilepsy, hypothyroidism, and Addison’s Disease. Developmentally he stayed an infant for years. He’s literally suffered through life since before taking his first breath.
Just think about that for a moment…….
He’s never not known pain and suffering of some kind.
He’s on the autistic spectrum which has pretty much made every milestone in his life catastrophically harder than it should be. Each milestone we take for granted has always been placed just out of his reach, forcing him to work that much harder to achieve it. He’s been bullied relentlessly. He’s met many who don’t understand him. A lot of times, because he looks “normal”, people judge his quirks. He’s had his imperfections pointed out time and again. Autism puts those imperfections on display front and center each time he doesn’t make eye contact. Each time he walks on his toes. Each time his hands fumble with fine motor skills. Each time he runs with his head leading the way instead of upright. Each times he fixates on sports. Each time he spins in circles. He’s had debilitating anxiety, OCD and been depressed in his short life, BUT even while having panic attacks he still had joy when he wasn’t in anxiety provoking circumstances.
How is it that this young man who has been through more than most adults, who’s been detoured at every turn through his 20 years of life, and who has every right to be angry, simply is not? Nobody would blame Tristan for being bitter. Everyone in his life would understand if he felt short changed. Yet, he’s none of those things. Instead he takes it all in stride. One road is blocked so he simply takes another.
Every single day for twenty years.
Even when he was too young to know what he was doing, he was doing IT; whatever IT is. For the first few years of his life he had therapists who visited our home almost daily to help work on his developmental delays. His special education teacher, Mo, always told us that even though he couldn’t verbally tell us what was going on, she believed with all her heart that his eyes told us he was taking in everything around him. He was absorbing it all and storing it. Twenty years later he can tell us about things that happened his first few years when others had written him off because Mo was right, he was always paying attention!
So again I ask why? What is IT that he has, that most of us don’t? What allows him to live life so joyfully? So boisterous and big?
The only thing I can figure is that it’s magic! No, not the Harry Potter kind of wizarding magic you’re thinking. However, that would be AWESOME! There are SO many things I could do if given a wand!
The magic I see in Tristan is a magic that’s reflected in his eyes. We all have it when we’re little, allowing us to see magic everywhere in the world. In the way electric doors open as we approach them. In the way a television can hold people inside. In the way superheroes can fly and have x-ray vision. And in the way we believe whole-heartedly that we can be anything we want, even Superman! Tristan has never lost that ability to see magic in the world the way we all do when we reach a certain again. That’s why he still refers to Santa Claus as Ho-Ho, a nickname he gave him when he was little. He still believes in him so much, we were able to Photoshop a picture of Bryan with Ho-Ho in front of our tree this year and it totally made Tristan’s day! That’s why at twenty we can still scare him into behaving with the creepy Elf on the Shelf. It’s why he watches wrestling every week and believes Booty O’s is an actual cereal. It’s why he will blow a traffic light and get excited when it turns green. He believes all of these things despite us telling him the truth, because he refuses to see the world any other way and honestly, why do we want to take that from him?
He sees the world in a way most of us haven’t in years. Instead of being cynical he’s optimistic. Instead of being judgmental he sees everyone as equals. Instead of being self conscious, he’s full of pride. Instead of feeling like less, he sees himself as more than enough. Instead of being resentful of his circumstances, he’s happy to be alive.
THANK YOU AUTISM.
Remember all the things I listed above that autism has done to make his life difficult? It has also allowed him to continue wearing rose colored glasses. Autism has ensured that he will always see magic in the world. Autism has given him the ability to take any situation, no matter how much anxiety or sadness it may cause, and learn the lesson then move forward. Autism has put Tristan on a path of forever forward progress. He NEVER gets stuck in one place. The quicksand of life never sucks him in. He never feels like he’s drowning. When life is tough he BELIEVES in his support system and KNOWS they will get him through. He never second guesses anything.
Autism is hard, don’t get me wrong! It is uncomfortable, frustrating, exhausting, emotionally draining, and can sometimes make me feel like I’m beating my head against a wall. His younger years were TOUGH! I mean seriously tough. The kind of tough that sometimes makes me wonder how I didn’t end up in a straight jacket! He couldn’t touch sand, his food had to be a precise temperature, he melted down more than he didn’t, he couldn’t talk so he broke his glasses almost daily out of frustration, and because he was crawling out of his skin he scratched himself till he bled. However, even as bad as it was and as uncomfortable as he was in our world, he was still joyful. He could ride his little green tractor for hours through the neighborhood waving to everyone he saw. He could NEVER (and still doesn’t) pass a stop sign without giving it a high five and each time he did so, you’d think he won the lottery!
Despite how tough it was and is, autism is also magical in its ability to allow Tristan to transcend some of the changes that come with adulthood. I don’t know about you but I’d love to borrow those rose colored glasses! I’d love to wake up in the morning, open my eyes and feel absolute joy for no reason other than it being a new day. The world doesn’t lose it’s magic. It’s still there. It’s us who change. We get too busy, too self centered, too involved in technology, and too convinced we never have enough time to notice the magic anymore.
Maybe Tristan’s love of stop signs is a reminder to us to STOP!
Stop for just a few minutes a day to breathe. Stop and find the magic again. Pay attention to the colors of a sunrise. Hear the birds chirping. Notice what magic your children are living in and take part in it. Give a stop sign a high five. Live more like Tristan.
I for one am going to wake up each day joyful at the opportunity to live my life a little more autistic. I’mm going to strive to be more like Tristan! I’m going to embrace my own quirks and be mindful of the magic around me. After all, if nobody is going to give me that magic wand, then I have to create the magic myself!