may 09Every Monday for the last few months now we’ve gone to Saddle Pals, where Joseph gets to ride a horse flanked by 3 volunteers and 1 supervisor. It’s an amazing program. Joseph used to be absolutely terrified of animals — even our pet cat — and this has changed his relationship with animals forever. He is still a little cautious, but always happy to greet a pet now. And he loooovves riding “his” horse, Chelsea.

After the first month of Saddlepals, his volunteers were coming up and telling me how amazing his progress was. The coordinator confided in me that Joseph’s volunteers were in love with him. When we had to switch our shift, all the volunteers switched too so that they could still be with him.

And yes, he is making progress, and yes, he is cute.  But I watch Dan, who is 12 and who is more seriously impaired than Joseph. I watch him up on that horse, flapping his hands and making that cooing sound that only autistic people seem to make.

I go over to say hi to Dan’s dad, who I know casually because we’ve attended RDI classes together. He opens his mouth and out comes worry after worry about his kid. First it’s about horseback riding: he’s been at this for 5 years now and he’s LOUD on the horse. Shouting is not allowed on a horse, so he gets taken off a lot. And he moves around too much and leans forward to pull the horse’s ears — and gets taken down for that, too.

I look at Dan’s volunteers. They are strong and firm with Dan, and there is a harshness to their voices and a hardness in their faces. It is hard to love Dan. It is hard to even like Dan, and I am sure that the volunteers have tried. And I wonder, did they love Dan when he was little and cute?

Dan’s father goes on about how incompetent Dan feels, and how he dreads failure so much that he seems to sabotage himself just to get failure over with.

It is tough, this thing called autism. And, though Joseph won’t ever be as impaired as Dan, he won’t always be so small and cute, either.

Although the volunteers attending Dan are hard-faced, Dan’s father is not. Dan’s father looks as though he is being tenderized by the Almighty Tenderizer. His face reflects his heart — soft, vulnerable, open, afraid and trusting.

Joseph’s future is one of those things I both worry about and lay at God’s feet. How can I know what his future will be like?

I take a deep breath and come back into the present. He is so cute, so sweet and so happy. Thank you, God, for that.

And thank you for this moment. I will endeavor to stay in it.

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