Sunday, February 12, 2012

Angels in the Moment

At fourteen I hiked Mount Humbug alone. At one point the path narrowed and I lost my footing. As I slid off the edge four arms lifted me to safety. It was a couple in their sixties. I wanted to ask them if they were angels but they were gone. 

If I had gotten to ask they would likely have said that, no, they were definitely not angels, but a mere retired couple hiking the Pacific Northwest. 

I wouldn't have believed them.

Fast forward sixteen years. It's a crisp morning around the turn of the century. I drive my beat up Ford Escort out of our apartment complex into our otherwise affluent neighborhood.

On the street I see a parked van with a man walking behind it and a woman running towards my car. My Jersey brain kicks in high gear. They want to run a scam on me. Better beat it outta here, fast. But her eyes stop my car cold. No, she isn't with this guy. That's primal fear in those eyes.  She's fleeing him.

I lunge onto the passenger side lock, push the door open and yell, "Get in!".

We round the van and I burn his license plate number into my eye sockets.

This would be abductee in the pink hat (I'll never forget that pink hat) hysterically tells me she is visiting her father from out of state. She went out for a morning run when this van pulled over and that guy tried to throw her in it. She grew up here. How could this happen here?

"Then I saw you", she says.

She leans sideways, viewing me in full and asks, "Are you an angel?".

"No", I chuckle, "I'm just a girl on her way to work".

I don't think she believes me.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

I See Mary in a Garden

Sometimes people walk into our house and assume we are Catholic. Of course they would.  What non-Catholic living room contains so much Mary?

There is a large portrait of Mary praying in a garden
and small statue of a veiled Mary atop a bookcase.

Nearby a framed Madonna and child sits on a Moroccan style wine rack.

For over a year I found myself collecting all things Mary with no understanding why. After all, I'm not Catholic like those typically this passionate about their Mary collections. Then it hit me - I was under the spell of an archetype.

Any religious text, mythology, historical tale, or novel contains variations on themes that have played out across human history. Whether a story is literally true matters not because the message endures. Names, places, faces, and times may vary but the basic themes are timeless.

I like to recognize those broad motifs in my own life because this infuses my experiences, even the tragic, with meaning and mystery. It reminds me that I'm never the first or only person to go through anything, which is easy to forget in the thick of hardship. This has gotten me through some intimidating ventures, like the terrifying reality of childbirth. I thought of the tens of billions of women across the ages who proceeded me in giving birth, identified with their collective bravery, and became brave myself.

Then there's Mary. What is more tragic and joyous than watching your beloved son be tortured to death before your very eyes only to witness him ultimately risen to a glorious new life?

I came to identify metaphorically with Mary as a mother because my seven year old autistic son was slipping away from me. In constant pain from an undiagnosed 24/7 Petite Mal seizure disorder, his aggression was constant. He'd drag me across the floor by my hair one minute and hug me the next, until another seizure had him reaching again for hair to pull or arms to bite. Nobody had any answers and there was little reason to believe that would change.

During these bouts, my eyes would often focus on Mary and this gave me strength. I found these images centering because Mary and her beloved son, too, had been to the depths of despair. Not to imply that witnessing my child's deterioration, devastating as it was, is the same as Mary at the foot of that Cross, helplessly watching her son slowly die an excruciatingly painful death. But is there a more helpless feeling than watching your own child suffer, unable to stop it? Every mother decends into that personal hell sooner or later; it's just a matter of degree.

Since childhood I've had this way of imaginatively entering into objects, ideas, or images and experiencing them from the inside out. Though this happens non-verbally I emerge from these episodes somehow changed. And so it was with those Mary images. Over time they transmuted my desperation into an understanding that beyond a shadow of a doubt my son too would triumph over his suffering. This had no rational basis, especially since the doctors told us it was just the Autism and we'd have to learn to live with it. But I knew there was more to it and answers would come.

And those answers did come.

We learned that our son suffered from an undiagnosed seizure condition, possibly since infancy. Now that optimal medication levels have been achieved his development, which stalled for years, has taken off. He amazes us each day.

I've long suspected that my son sometimes reads my mind. Now I'm convinced. I wrote this post in my head as it coalesced around the line "I see Mary in a Garden" from Springsteen's song The Rising, but mentioned this to nobody. Imagine my surprise, then, when my boy walked up to me, leaned his elbows on my knees and asked with a big smile, "See Mary in a Garden?" With tear-filled gleaming eyes, I returned his grin and said, "Yes I do."

My son, too, is resurrected.


Update: 3/30/18

My son's early and middle childhood were continual bouts of his doing well and then regressing. He has always been verbal, but until the last few years speech was limited to short sentences. He was subsequently diagnosed with migraines, which was what caused much of his pain in the early years.  Migraine conditions in the functionally nonverbal are commonly missed since these individuals cannot explain what is causing them pain. Sadly, pain outbursts and self-injury from their migraines is often labeled "just behavioral" or "just the autism".

Now that his migraines and epilepsy are controlled with Cannabidiol Oil my son is happy 90% of the time. I no longer believe Autism itself has anything to do with his physical pain.

I share this for the same reason I have always shared the end results of his medical mysteries: what if information in our story holds a key for someone else? After her autistic son's aggression was labeled just behavioral, a local mom heard our story and insisted upon an EEG. Her son had undiagnosed epilepsy and behavioral problems reduced dramatically with treatment. 

We were only able to diagnose his migraines because my child was somewhat verbal and could offer clues. "Alex's head is humpty dumpty.", "My head exploded.", and "There is cake frosting in my head." The neurologist took it from there.        

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