yearn·ing

[yur-ning]

noun 1. deep longing, especially when accompanied by sadness

Toward the middle of Joseph’s swim lesson, the next class starts filing in. It’s a special needs class in a way that’s very different to Joseph’s special needs: it’s adults, in their mid- to late- life, who are dealing with physical disabilities. They get into the warm water pool to walk and stretch, very gently and slowly.

They come early, because it takes each of them a long time to get changed and shower. Today Judy comes first, shuffling slowly through the door. She is bent over nearly double — looking, in profile, like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Her face screws up with the pain of walking each time she takes a step.

Next is Bill. I think he had a stroke, as half his face is paralyzed. For some reason this makes him look  like he’s constantly surprised. His body moves at a snail’s pace, and I marvel at the patience of his caretaker, who walks beside him.

Last is Linda, slim and pretty. She is by far the youngest in the class, perhaps in her late 30s. Until a few weeks ago Linda would walk in slowly, leaning hard on a walker, with her caretaker behind her in case she was needed. But now Linda’s caretaker  has a new role: pushing Linda in a wheelchair. I’d hoped it was only temporary — that Linda would get back onto her feet — but it seems like it’s her new reality.

I watch Linda get wheeled through the door and down the aisle to the dressing rooms. She looks over at the kids in the pool and I see it, just for a moment, on her face: pure wistfulness, a yearning to be in that pool, beating the water with strong legs and slicing the water with rapidly-moving arms. Like those kids. Sorrow that it isn’t that way for her…that, in fact, it’s going the other direction. It’s over in a flash, and then her face is calm and composed.

I know that feeling of yearning — of deep longing, accompanied by sadness. I yearn to have what parents of a typical kid has. And there is Linda, yearning to have what my kid has.

Geez. What a messed-up world.

While I was grocery shopping today, a baby girl and I met eyes. She smiled at me, and I smiled back. Later I saw her again, down another aisle. This time she called out, “Hi!” and gave me another great smile. Naturally, I answered her and smiled back, enjoying the connection with such a precious little cutie.

Then I felt the yearning again. This girl, she was getting the feedback system that our society gives to cute, friendly kids. Neuro-typical kids. It’s full of positive feelings. This girl feels liked by strangers, comfortable in her world, knowing that she is great just the way she is.

It wasn’t that way with Joseph. He is, by and large, withdrawn from strangers — and even from many people he knows. That sweet, shy smile; that teasing, flirtatious grin — not on my kid. So what kind of a feedback system has he gotten from our society, I wonder. I don’t think he feels loved and accepted by the world at large.

Then there is my friend, Therese. Kids are laughing and making fun of her ASD son in the classroom. Here we have a negative feedback system — and from his peers, no less. When Therese discussed with her boy a conflict he had unknowingly created with another child, he turned to her and said sadly, “Help me, Mommy!” She cried for hours.

It’s hard to be the different one. Especially when you don’t have the understanding to change it.

Therese yearns for it to be better for her son, for herself. I yearn for things to get better for them, too. Just now I am strongly yearning for Joseph to make a friend — one true friend — someone who will stand by him when things get rough, which they will.

I yearn not to be in this autism club that no one wants to join. I yearn not to be living, as someone put it once, a mother’s worst nightmare.

And Linda yearns to run, to dance, to swim. Or, at the very least, to be back on her walker.

I don’t have any answers today. No glib responses. I’m just here, in this space. Yearning. For myself, for my son, for anyone on this planet who has some deep pain and yearns for it to be otherwise.

Dear God, bless us in our pain. Help us, if we can’t surrender it to you, at least to share it with you.

Yearning. Just yearning.

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