Post 51/2021 Saturday 18 December . . . It’s a week until Christmas. Woo-hoo! Something like that. Among faith traditions, it’s a holy season central to Christians. Much on the commercial, secular side though, we’re often reminded, gets muddled in with the meaning of the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem.
I’ve chosen to write a no-respecter-of-persons Christmas story related to autism. The question of autism came to mind as we were out walking last month. How do families who face the autism of a child or parent deal with the ofttimes frenzy of a holiday like Christmas?
The places in the story are real. The children and the adults are imaginary. The children are Maury, Danny, Susie, Jason, and Maria. The adults are Maria’s parents, Danny’s mother, assistant teacher Mr. Lesley and the lead teacher, Ms. Talitha. We only hear from Ms. Talitha (the narrator), Maury, Danny and Danny’s mother, Elizabeth.
These imaginary characters are from families who reside in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They are going on a pre-Christmas field trip to the village of Shipshewana, Indiana, an hour away. Maria’s parents, Jose and Yvonne, will drive their SUV with Maria, Susan, Jason and Mr. Lesley. Danny’s mother, Elizabeth, will drive the other car, with Danny, Maury and Ms. Talitha.
The nativity stable scene in the story is fictional, since in a partial walking tour of the village on Friday I failed to find such an installation, though that does not speak to other parts of the area. I recall that years ago local churches sponsored a live nativity stable.
Maury is the one most able to speak. The other children seldom verbalize their thoughts, not in the classroom, not at home, not on US 131 heading from Kalamazoo to Shipshewana.
While nine-year-old Maury can express himself to a degree, this is a class of children with moderate to severe autism. In their eyes, though, according to Ms. Talitha, you can tell they know exactly what you are saying. “They’re dears, challenging, but honest to goodness dears.”
The “accent” photos are from our home. Thanks to my sister, Kaye, who taught children with autism in Brampton, Ontario, for help with this story.
Is Jesus like me?
Talitha: “Children, we’re pretty excited to finally go on the field trip we’ve planned for weeks. We are driving in two cars to Shipshewana, Indiana. It will take about an hour to get there. We will see lots of Christmas lights. We’ll see the decorations from our cars and also have a ride in a carriage pulled by a horse. Then we’ll have a picnic with pizza and ice cream and hot chocolate and cookies. Yum. I will give each of you a mask to wear when we get out of the cars. After everything is done, you’ll be sleeping all the way home. O.K?
“Maria, Susan, Jason and Mr. Lesley will ride with Maria’s parents in their lovely spanking new SUV Hybrid. Danny’s Mom will drive the other car, with Danny, Maury and me. Now in, buckle up and we’ll be off.”
Talitha, from the front seat: “Maury and Danny, do you remember when we put icing and sprinkles on the gingerbread house? That was fun, wasn’t it?”
A bit later, Maury pipes up: “I ate a reindeer.”
Talitha: “Yes, we made two dozen gingerbread reindeer cookies when we decorated the gingerbread house. We also put lights on a small tree and decorated the whole room. And for weeks we’ve listened to Christmas music.”
As we travel along four lanes of heavy traffic, Maury bursts out, “We’re going to New York! We’re going to New York! We’re going to New York!”
Talitha: “Maury, we are going to Shipshewana, Indiana. Shipshe’s much, much closer than New York.”
Maury: “New York! New York!”
I’ve seldom seen such genuine sheer delight and excitement in Maury. I see a wide smile and twinkle in his eyes. He must be remembering the pictures of Times Square we saw in class.
We’ve left the four lanes of traffic at Three Rivers and keep heading south, soon to cross into Indiana. Now we’re turning onto State Road 120 and then take a local road around a detour of State Road 5. Even at 4:30, it’s getting dark.
Presently, we arrive at the main four-way stop in Shipshewana. Clear and colored lights shine on all sides of the streets, outlining buildings, shrubs and trees and a host of displays. Music fills the air. We pause briefly at a spotlighted nativity creche.
“Oooh,” Maury says. “What’s that?”
Talitha: “That’s a nativity scene of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus. It’s like the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.”
“Hungry,” Danny says.
Talitha: “Of course, you are hungry, Danny. I’m guessing we’re all hungry. We’ll have our picnic before we drive through the light display at the Shipshewana Flea Market. That drive is almost a mile and a half long. O look, there’s Menno-Hof, that’s the Amish-Mennonite Visitor Center where we have special permission to have our picnic after everybody else has left. Then we’ll take in the Lights of Joy Christmas Light Drive-Thru.”
Maury: “Is Jesus like me?”
Talitha: “What a wonderful question, Maury. Yes, Jesus is like you because his parents loved him and took care of him. His relatives adored him. He had friends. . ..”
Maury: “Did Jesus talk?”
Talitha: “I’m still thinking about how you and all the rest of us are like Jesus. We are like Jesus who God sent to earth to take care of what people had messed up. Jesus was and is like us–taking care of each other and the whole creation.
Maury: “But can he talk?”
Talitha: “Jesus could talk, Maury, as he grew older, he “talked” a whole lot more by what he did, by example. Children in our class teach by example too. You do that in the way you make sure the gerbils have food and water. How eagerly you join in our pick-up-the-litter-in-the-park day.
“How your smiles light up the world. You are bundles of energy. You are loved. Your dad loved you so much. We’re all so sorry that he got sick with Covid-19 and didn’t get better. You’ve been good for your mom and sisters. Jesus loves and cares for you and for every one of us. At our picnic we’ll hear the words Jesus’ Mom, Mary spoke about him.”
Danny: “Too much.”
Elizabeth: “Danny, that’s not polit. . ..”
Talitha: “It’s O.K, Elizabeth. Danny makes a good point. Talking is good, but it can be too much sometimes. How are you enjoying the outing so far?”
Elizabeth: “I’m taking it all in. Christmas can be so overwhelming. I’m so grateful for this time away with the children. It’s so beautiful. Like Danny, I hardly have words to describe it. Thank you.”
Words of the year
Various dictionaries have chosen their word for the year. The Australian Writer’s Center has gathered the various choices. For Merriam-Webster it’s Vaccine. Cambridge Dictionary: Perseverance. Oxford English Dictionary: Vax. Australian National Dictionary Centre: Strollout. Merriam-Webster also noted: insurrection, cicada.
My word: Patience. Patience in minding the “ps” and queues at the pharmacy. Patience in the daily vigilance and practices needed to prevent that super nosey Covid-19 and its variants from taking up residence in your body. Patience for the day when fuller numbers of people here and around the world get the vaccine, full stop, period. Patience for better. Patience for the kettle to boil, as in my second word choice that doesn’t count for 2021: TwoZeroTwoTwo.
Merry / Happy Christmas!