Kennett Square, PA
This morning, I was at a funeral for a young man on the cusp of life, a boy not even out of his teens.
I’d never met him.
I’d met his grieving mother once, a few months ago. We work for the same organization, but in different parts of the state, and our jobs are very different. Other than seeing her name on an email distribution list, we generally don’t have much day-to-day contact.
So I felt slightly out of place this morning among mourners who clearly had a stronger bond of 18 years of memories. Yet there I stood with my coworker this morning as we gazed at her beautiful boy.
“I know you don’t know me real well,” I said, re-introducing myself. “I’m so sorry that I didn’t get the chance to know your son.”
I continued, reaching for a connection. “I’m a mom of a boy. As a parent, I am just so very sorry for your loss.”
I made my way back to where I was sitting with my coworkers, still feeling like I had no business being there, yet somehow feeling that this is where I needed to be.
We bowed our heads in prayer. The rock music malfunctioned. And person after person made their way to the lecturn, telling story after story, putting the puzzle of this young man together for me.
I will always remember his hugs, because they were so rare. That meant you were special. We all know how much he didn’t like to be touched ….
He was a wanderer, that one. We never knew where he was, he would always try to be getting away from the crowd …. too many noises bothered him … we’d find him off looking at the sunset, just because that’s what he wanted to do then ….
More often than not, he wanted to be alone …
He was his own person …. an individual … marched to the beat of his own drummer …
Quirky … unusual gifts … so funny … exceptional….
But oh, was he smart! He had this fountain of knowledge and would constantly ask questions. He was the most intelligent person I knew and he could talk (boy could he talk!) about everything. An encyclopedia, he was … and so good with computers, he knew everything about them ….
Interested in science, and science fiction … he loved books.
He was always so funny as a little kid, always taking off his clothes all the time ….
He had some trying times in school …. put up with a lot from the other kids who didn’t understand him and didn’t take the time to get to know him.
“In order for him to be ready to go on this trip with 3,000 other teens, we had to be ready for him. We had to learn about his sensory needs. We had to learn what autism was. We had to learn about him, about Aspergers, and what how we could make this a success for him.”
By the time the reverend got to her closing remarks in her eulogy, I was officially a basket case, thinking of my little boy and seeing myself in my coworker.
She’s one of us, I thought, thinking of the autism moms who I emailed before leaving for the funeral. This is the reason I needed to be here.
She’s one of us.
The pastor was talking about the gifts people with autism can offer the rest of us, what they can teach us.
“So what can we do, each one of us?” the reverend concluded. “I’m wearing two bracelets today in his memory. One is from the Autism Foundation. The other says simply, End Bullying. Because as someone who was bullied, this can be his legacy to us. Learn about autism. Get to know what Aspergers is. Help our young people to know that they don’t deserve to be bullied because they have autism.”
As Jimmy Buffett ended the service (as a tribute to the deceased’s ringtone), my dear friend’s words from last night’s dinner echoed over the mourners singing “you’ve got fins to the left, fins to the right, and you’re the only bait in town.”
There are no coincidences, only reasons.
We are truly all connected.