When you work with children with disabilities you are forever changed. There is unarguably some switch in our human make-up like that of a thousand candles. There is no dimmer, there is no off… it is forever hardwired to be set on fire for this special population. Once you make that connection you are hooked. You cannot experience a child with autism, downs, MR, the list goes on, without being undeniably and wholly altered. This change is so so so good. If they made a drug that created the euphoria that these children can create in a life, we would all be addicted junkies!
Now, I am no fool. I am fully aware of the days that feel like mud. Some days they can experience terrible reactions to things common place to a typically developed child. However, there is something so pure and real about these moments too. There aren’t any headgames or fake masks they hide behind. The transparency is so refreshing and endearing. When they are sad, or angry, or elated… it’s all so clear. Sometimes I wish that I had the courage to behave in such a lucid fashion.
It’s not fantasy or dreaming to say that the love felt and shared by these children is like no drug or feeling ever experienced. It feels like imagination, but it’s not. It’s genuine. It’s real. Perhaps it may appear fake because the world is so use to individuals who hide emotions, plan what to say and feel, and react only as they would believe is expected by society. We get in our own way so many times we nearly miss out on such true emotions. As I sit here in my first job since college that does not directly work with these precious jewels, I am tearful. I miss them. I miss the connection we share and I miss every single part of the experience.
I heard an analogy recently that I will share as it relates so perfectly to the bond formed. I altered a few things for easier correlation.
When you love someone like I love this population, they’re a part of you. It’s like you’re attached by this invisible tether and no matter how far away you are you can always feel them… and when I miss them I feel like I am falling into nothingness. And then I remember Jacob. I remember a life lead with no enemies, no resentments, no regrets and I am inspired. I miss these kids very much – it feels like a piece of me has been ripped off.
This analogy of being tethered to people and having a ‘calling’ are so undeniable. Once you’ve experienced something you simply cannot live without it seems that your DNA changes. You feel like you are lost in a desert without any sign of water and even in a crowded room filled with water fountains you could die of dehydration. And it goes for anything, anyone.
Truth be told, when I heard this analogy I was thinking of my grandfather (who is, by the grace of God, still alive). What I would do if he were gone, how I could cope and the reality of it all is that I wouldn’t… part of me thinks that I couldn’t. How would I survive, how would I wake up, go on, smile ever for anything? Could I? Truly? The thought of even having to smile without him around is unbearable. Because I love him so much that even the though of missing him leaves me grasping my throat as I gasp for air and my chest so inverted that it may as well drop to the floor and be trampled repeatedly.
Love does not have to be some silly love song written for a lover. This is love. Love is a bond so hardwired in your soul and woven into your skin that when you even think about life outside of it you’d rather not live at all. Love is the air that keeps my lungs inflated and the reason why I can put on a strong mask even when the world is slowly plucking my spine apart disc by disc. My special ed children, my lifelong friends, my grandfather… they are my vital organs. Without those organs my life ceases too… or at least my perception of the world turns grey and bleak.
I am so indelibly grateful for these experiences and these people in my life because they have molded me out of the mud and they have made my heart feel… and guys, I’m a junkie.
Love is, above all, the gift of oneself. Jean Anouilh