Autistic Lives Matter

4121837708_b3d12f0f30_oWhen I first met Daniel Bowman Jr. at the Festival of Faith and Writing, we both experienced that you’re-not-how-I-pictured-you-from-Facebook moment. While he may not have felt self-consciously compact, I became quite aware of my own awkward, lumbering stature that banged into a book table or two. Still, I tried to make a good impression while obsessing over the fact that I wasn’t wearing earrings twenty minutes before my appointment to read a poem at the chapel.

“I’ll feel naked up there without earrings,” I told him. “Wanna come with me to the campus store to find some?”

Nice to meet you. I’m neurotic and say inappropriate things.

Dan, on the other hand, was fighting a whole ninja army of thoughts: What do I say to de-escalate the anxiety rising up from standing in the middle of a conference with hundreds of people? How can I be endearing and likeable? If I’m witty will she want to get to know me better?

We not only survived the encounter, but over the next couple of years, grew in our friendship. We shared our writing, spent time with mutual friends at retreats and conferences, and even set up a co-reading at a local coffee shop in my area. Meanwhile, I began to observe some quirky patterns in Dan’s behavior—nothing too worrisome, since we are, after all, poets. But he often avoided eye contact or had trouble transitioning to hellos and goodbyes. Sometimes he became agitated during unpredictable social situations. [Read more...]

Going to the Manger as She Is

Adoración_de_los_pastores_(Murillo)

By Ann Hedreen

I drape a towel over Nick’s head and strap it in place with a bandana. I squeeze Claire’s arms into her bent-hanger angel wings. It is the morning of the Christmas pageant, and my shepherd and my angel are ready to go.

The question is: Am I? Because on this pageant morning, I don’t get to walk in to church with my scrappy, adorable children. Instead, I’ll be making an entrance at the last minute, with my mom and her ever-unpredictable companion: Alzheimer’s disease.

I wish I didn’t have to. Bring her. I hate myself for having that thought. Because I love my mom. But how I loathe Alzheimer’s and what it is doing to her. And how I hate it for bringing out the worst, not in Mom, but in me.

Nine-thirty on the dot: Time to get in the car and focus on the challenge at hand: precision timing. The Seattle weather is cooperating, December-style: wet but not a downpour, cold but not freezing. The kids and I race up the road to our old brick church. Nick’s towel and Claire’s wings flap as I shoo them out. I remind myself that it’s okay if scuffed-up sneakers and jeans peek out from under their costumes. What matters is that they know the carols. They each know their one line. They’re ready to walk right up to that manger, as they are. Unlike me.

“I’ll be back in half an hour,” I call after them. “Good luck with the rehearsal. Remember: Belt out those lines!” [Read more...]

Listening to a Stranger’s Story

Airplane WindowI am boarding a plane to Detroit, and so is she, her thick coat falling onto my lap from the center aisle, the smell of smoke thick enough to make my head swim. She shoves the coat under her seat, her thick gray hair brushing my arm as she sits.

“I’m Dianne,” she tells me, wiping the hair from her eyes. “Boy, am I not looking forward to this flight.”

I agree with her, my voice surprisingly loud. Maybe it’s the migraine I’m fighting, or the nausea that accompanies me with every flight I take. Maybe something inside me recognizes Dianne’s movements, the way she mumbles and laughs to herself, the instability of motion that somehow demands my response. [Read more...]

Hamster Hospice: Caring for God’s Tiny Creatures

HamsterFor my son, Alex

In the final months before our hamster died, I would lie in bed late at night, wondering if he was still alive. In the quiet of the house, after my husband had left for work at 3:00 a.m. and my children were asleep in their beds, I would strain my ears to hear if there was any sound of movement from his cage.

Lying there in the dark, I would find myself holding my breath, straining to listen to whether—just one more time—I might hear the sound of him running on his wheel. But for the last several months that Fluff was alive, there was no sound from the cage at all, aside from the slow occasional rasp of his claws on the cage’s bedding as he painfully turned and the bubble of the water tank as he sucked a few pitiful drops down.

Hamsters, you remember, are nocturnal creatures. When Captain Von Flufficus arrived in our family in August 2013—the result of our nine-year-old’s persistent begging, I, for one, did not want to own a rodent—that was our family’s instantly rueful realization, as we all lay in our beds on our small second floor, unable to sleep, while he ran on the wheel all night long. [Read more...]

My Days of Awe, 5776

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImpatience. Anger. Wastefulness. Restlessness. Desire. Haughtiness. Greed. Judgement. Pride.

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I’ve been paying attention, especially the last few days. Now it’s getting serious. It’s the morning of the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

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Yesterday, just after I walked into the house after ten-and-a-half hours at the university, before I dropped my heavy book bag on the floor, I spotted a bowl of chips and an open container of my favorite salsa. But before I was able to crack the first of forty chips in my mouth, my wife said, it arrived crushed.

She was on hold, forty-five minutes waiting for a customer service rep. The post office. How to file a claim. A box of wedding gifts. [Read more...]


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