We had completed our outdoor chores just as the day was coming to a close. He had been tasked with leaf raking. His sisters were in charge of distributing the leaves around the plants. I found him sitting on the ground, silent, staring out into seemingly nothingness. I’ve seen him this way multiple times before. He said nothing, never even acknowledged my presence as I approached him. His arms bare, bright red shirt with classic humorous phrase on it, he has always liked shirts that seem to speak for him, for his words are few, they always have been. As I sat down in the grass beside him, I followed his gaze. Nothingness it seemed was in fact the beginning of a beautiful sunset. The blue sky sinking into streaks of pink and orange. Bare trees silhouetted in front of the colorful display. He sat silent and motionless.
I always struggle this time of year. I have for as long as I can remember. When the days are cold and darkness comes early, I tend to give way to feelings of sadness. Maybe sadness isn’t the right word, melancholy perhaps. I have read that many of History’s creative types were prone to bouts of “melancholy”. I take a little comfort in knowing I’m in good company. I find myself struggling until the buttercups begin to show themselves. They are the first to usher in spring and with it warmer days.
As we sat there staring I became acutely aware that the bare trees made me uncomfortable. Their leaves long gone, the deciduous giants looked oddly vulnerable. As the word floated through my mind, I began to ponder. How in the world could something so seemingly strong be vulnerable? Maybe that is why I do not like to look at the trees, perhaps I think that if I am seeing them in that state of nakedness then I am invading them somehow. As we sat there thinking of such things I made a “Hmph” sound. He looked at me, he said nothing. I spoke.
“Hey Bud. What do you think of the trees with no leaves?”
The world calls him autistic. I call him awesome. Some would call us cursed. I call us blessed. Many years ago I mourned what the world calls normal, I mourned what I knew would never be. Atypical. We had answers but in the answer there were an infinite number of questions and uncertainties. I never really told anyone at the time of my grief. I hid it. My fear would exit myself in the form of anger or anxiety. Sometimes it still does. He spoke, his characteristic, loud monotone voice like music to my ears.
“They’re okay? They don’t bother you?”
“They sort of bother me.”
“Why?” Clearly he was puzzled. How could I be bothered by something so abstract yet so finite?
“They seem sort of naked or something.”
“But won’t they be back? They always come back.” The leaves were the “they” to whom he was referring.
“Yes. In the spring, when everything starts to grow again. The trees lose their leaves in the fall, they go to the ground and compost down into the soil.”
“Well that’s good.”
“It is, I reckon.”
“If the leaves were there we couldn’t see that bird or squirrel.” I hadn’t noticed them but there they were, doing whatever it is birds and squirrels do in trees on cool days. Scurrying about being an adventuresome bird and resourceful squirrel. They had captured his attention long before I sat down.
In the vulnerability the trees had allowed a part of themselves to be seen that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. To capture the attention of one of the most unique of thinkers. In their vulnerability and loss they were life-giving and were now able to ready themselves for new life and new growth. He had seen that I had missed it entirely. As we sat there in silence watching our new-found friends against the backdrop of God’s paintbrush, I gave thanks for a new perspective, for the reminder that joy comes not from my circumstances around me, but from within. I gave thanks for a unique and amazing boy and his insight into the things that go beyond the naked eye and that in vulnerability there is healing and life renewed.