I was walking my 3 year old boy, Anselm John “AJ,” into Headstart the second week of his program. Another family was just paces ahead of us and I overheard the young boy say to his mother, “that boy is in my class,” and he turned back to say “Hi AJ” and we kept walking. I knew that the young boy knew AJ would not respond. I then heard the mom say, “I don’t think he is in your class” and the boy said “he is” and then she said sternly, “then why did he not respond?” I came to that little boy’s rescue, “AJ does not communicate, that is why he is in this program.” She responded, “oh.”
AJ is well loved by children. There are those in church who always try to engage him and my favorite are those on the playground who met him for the first time and follow him around. Often, they ask why he doesn’t talk and I would respond “he is two” (all the way up to his last birthday) and I should add AJ is quite tall for his age. I feel the children understand that he is a very loving and fun boy. He is bright as well, but he does not use words to communicate. He is not great at eye contact or pretend play. If you want to know a letter, he’s your boy. There are also a growing number of words he can spell and he will count up and down, and ignore everyone in the room. Nap time is a chore for the aides for he would rather recite letters and spell words and not do so quietly.
Many tell us not to worry, and I am pretty sure we the parents are not worrying, beyond the normal worry parents do, right down to checking on them before going to sleep ourselves. A lot of people, who don’t know him well, tell us he will grow out of it, and I am sure he will, but it may take some special help. I had special help for my dyslexia. This week he is being tested by numerous professionals to determine if he is autistic. I assume he will be “on the spectrum.” I am fine with that, and I know he is fine with it, especially if he has a book with letters in it.
Church needs to be a place where we understand differences, especially differences that make us uncomfortable. I realize from the numerous conversations I have people either want to ignore and deny it, or they want me to be confident it is going to be fine. Both make me feel angst. I want to scream, but I don’t–I am the preacher. I would scream that we the parents mourn the loss of the idealized child and every parent will eventually have that experience (or at least should) let us have that experience. It’s normal. Or we know there is something different–we live with him, he has had some tests, let us have our new normal–yes it is fine, and he is himself. The children are the ones who get it; AJ is different, but he is their friend. The children see him as part of their group, even if he doesn’t talk to them, or play with them. They are happy even if he only engages for a moment. I remember one older child who never heard AJ say something, come running to my wife to tell how he said something, and they know to celebrate his progress and encourage it. They are his best teachers.
I cannot help but think about how Thomas needed to see the scars to know the resurrected Jesus. The theologian and sociologist, Nancy Eiesland, who died at 44 on March 10, 2009 was what we often label “disabled” from a congenital bone defect. She would state that she would hope she would still be disabled in heaven. ”The reason, which seems clear enough to many disabled people, was that her identity and character were formed by the mental, physical and societal challenges of her disability. She felt that without her disability, she would ‘be absolutely unknown to myself and perhaps to God.’”(NYT March 21, 2009)
When Jesus appears in the locked room, He displays his scarred hands and His side to identify Himself. The disciples would have known Jesus’ face and voice as this was their teacher, their friend, their Lord, yet Jesus displays his wounds. It must be important. He did not erase those wounds even though He conquered death itself. He comes to the disciples to identify himself as scarred and perfect, and us today as well. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples directly. The church was created and “called-out” with this breath. Thus Jesus is telling us who we are with His scarred hands. We are the Body of Christ with our own scarred and perfect bodies. We participate in the resurrection with our differently able bodies, though not all of our differences are visible.
For my son is perfect even if he struggles with eye contact and communication, even if he ends up “on the spectrum.” There may not be a physical scar, but he is differently abled. How as a church do we recognize that our Lord not only showed His hands to show who He was to Thomas, but who we, the followers, are as well. Like I said above, I came to the rescue of the little boy, who knew AJ was in his class, who knew that AJ would not respond, who said hello with the hope AJ may engage him, for the boy that will probably, among others, help teach AJ to communicate better. I rescued this boy who was being questioned by his mother by being blunt: “AJ doesn’t communicate.” I did not come to the rescue of my son. He will be perfect, if we as a church and society can understand what children understand.