Now living in the Seattle area, when someone comes to visit I find myself bringing them to Pike Place Public Market. You know the place they throw fish? I brought my mother recently on a Monday, without the boy. I did enjoy not chasing the exploring five year old, who stole his first date at this market, which he ate from on top of my shoulders after the crime. In his defense, he would certainly share dates with anyone. I know he would not mind sharing because I bought a half pound of them from the vendor he snatched his tasty treat but none were consumed at home. I tell people it was wonderful to go to the market without him, and if they know he has autism, they assume because he does not like the crowds and the noise. However, each person with autism is different, and for my son, he loves crowds and activities, but he has no sense of boundaries or safety. Keeping track of him is not unlike keeping track of a spunky, friendly, curious monkey.
I did enjoy going without him, but I did miss him exploring new things, like dates, caramel, a fan, flowers, balloons, and the cobblestone street. The last is the one I want to share with you. We went to the aquarium Saturday before Mother’s Day, without his mom, if I remember correctly, this was part of her Mother’s Day present per her request. I decided we should add flowers to the present, so we stopped by the market. This is, by the way, a very busy day at the market with many great deals on flowers. So I picked up the most expensive and prettiest flowers I could find (my wife will read this so…what would you expect me to write?). My boy was enjoying the flowers and the crowds, and went to running on the cobblestone street. I watched as he picked up steam parting people as he went. I called out his name, but it is only recently that he even acknowledges someone calling his name. I then saw him lose his balance.
I have no idea what he felt, but I know I could feel it in my gut. In my head I could ‘see’ him laying out among the old stones with blood running from his face and hands. My stomach was preparing me for the worst of all experiences, my child in pain. I then focused again on what seemed to me as an inevitable fall, but his little feet started speeding up, as if in slow-motion as my stomach turned, and I debated throwing the flowers to the ground as I picked up speed behind him. I watched him flail his arms backwards as he stepped more and more quickly, eventually getting his feet below his falling body. He eventually came to a stop, and ran again more carefully on this old stone road.
I often experience that feeling when my child (or another child of God) almost falls or does actually fall. It reminds me of my favorite Greek Word: Σπλαγχνίζομαι (Splanchnizomai) the root of this word it splangchna, “pity” or more literally “bowels.” Specifically, it was used to refer to the organs removed in a blood sacrifice prior to the Christian context, when it started being used to refer to being moved to compassion from the gut.[i] I do not like this feeling at all. However, I have come to realize that having a son with autism I honestly feel this uneasiness in my gut all the time, and I call this feeling compassion, but it is compassion that is not easy or comfortable.
I share this feeling in part so you may understand why parents of children with special needs look worn and tired, they are constantly watching their children fall and catch themselves, and often not catch themselves. I now admit this uneasiness, which is helpful.
I do not see this much different for churches. Not that the church has a diagnosis, but we keep talking about trying new things, experimenting, being Church in new ways, but we are terrified of the skinned knees and bloody lips. I am less concerned with people who say they don’t like change or adamantly want their 1957 church back, for they are honest. However, I am urging all of us that vision new ways of being the Body of Christ in the World to understand what it means to have this uneasiness. Are we really able to live with the gut wrenching pain of compassion it takes to experiment and learn? It will not be safe or easy, but did the Rabbi promise that it would be easy or safe?