I’ve been afraid of this moment for approximately one fifth of my life. That’s about the same amount of time it would take for me to travel to the moon and back…if I were to travel by rickshaw. The thought that my beautiful son Max would one day graduate from his special needs school, and end up floating around in the big wide world without a tether, was more than I could bear. What would he do? What if he didn’t have anything to do?
As the clock ticked, I dug in my heels. In our state of Massachusetts, when an individual with significant special needs hits the magic age of 22, they are no longer entitled to school services. It is devastating, but there’s no way to stop the process, no way to go backwards. Sometimes I’d think about Mr. Peabody and his Way Back Machine, that wonderful gizmo that could transport you back in cartoon time. But then I would think, what would I go back to, really? Would I relive those early days of the diagnosis of autism, back before I knew how Max would be a gift? Would I return to the gut-wrenching struggle of searching for a school, back before I knew how God would provide?
It was just two weeks before graduation, the home stretch of all my efforts to plan and prepare, and everything was coming to an end, including me. The side of my neck felt like a kinked hose ready to explode. I could recognize the seriousness of this symptom. So, I drove myself to the drug store and purchased a bottle of Aspirin. Aspirin wards off an impending heart attack or stroke, right? I think I can take a pill for that.
Surprisingly, sleepless nights, chewed fingernails, and the misuse of an over the counter medication has little impact on the actual outcome of life. The day still came. My son turned 22. Max was graduating.
I heard the music and clutched a tissue in my hand, more out of fear than emotion. Max entered the auditorium of his special needs school, his teachers just a few steps away for support. His black graduation gown flowed around each deliberate tiptoeing step as he surveyed the crowd. 150 people had gathered, just for him. The familiar faces must have surprised him, because Max burst into a smile so wide that I thought it was going to knock over some of the spectators.
He walked to his seat, a single seat, facing the crowd. How is this humanly possible, I thought. How is Max going to sit in one place for the entire graduation without a teacher beside him, or a team of highly skilled gymnasts, or duct tape. But he did it. Actually, he loved it.
Members of our family spoke, friends spoke, teachers spoke, everyone giving Max words of love and encouragement for his future. And then it was Max’s turn. With shaking hands I pulled out the cue cards we had created at home, my son’s graduation speech, and crouched down in front of him. Max read each card, slowly, clearly, just as we had practiced. “Thank you for being my friends. Thank you for helping me to be independent. Thank you for believing in me.” I could feel a wave of emotion building in the crowd behind me, and in my own heart, as Max’s joy and gratitude stirred the room.
When he finished his speech Max threw his hands up into the air, his black robe billowing around his arms, and yelled, “I’m a superstar!”
In all these years, one fifth of my life, I hadn’t expected this. I almost let ‘fear of the future’ rob me of the joy in this very day. Will it be easy or simple or predictable going forward? Maybe not. But there will be moments more beautiful that I could predict, dazzling reminders of God’s goodness and provision, and a thousand opportunities to daringly cast my cares on God and watch Him work. Max is stepping boldly into the future, celebrating with gratitude all the gifts we have been given, all the goodness of this very moment.
That’s the kind of journey I want to be on too.
The school director stepped forward to present Max with his certificate of completion. “Now move the tassel on your cap, Max,” I heard her whisper. Max reached up to fish for the tassel, which was actually a red ribbon tied to the cap, and moved it to the other side. She whispered something else into his ear, and gave a “3 – 2 – 1” count down. Max looked at her with an impish grin as if he almost couldn’t believe she was suggesting he do such a thing. With a broad smile he grabbed his cap and threw it into the crowd.
And it soared overhead like a Frisbee.
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