In Alaska this past summer (at the summer camp for girls I was working at), we talked about gratitude every single day, often multiple times a day; we read books about it, made up phrases about it, and shared it every single night at dinner. In the simplest way I understand it, gratitude is a specific and life changing action, thought, verbal or non-verbal communication and the subsequent acknowledgement. It is however, different from thankfulness. Thankfulness is often associated with exchange of goods or services, gratitude is something that penetrates your soul. As we head into this Thanksgiving week (or as my community of people call it the “Collective Feast of Liberation”) I think it is more imperative than ever that we think about the places we are grateful and where our gratitude flows out of us.
“Sarah. SARAH. Have you seen Taylor??? TAYLOR. WHERE IS HE???”
“Um… I don’t know. He was just here.”
“Samantha. Have you seen Samantha?”
My mom walked towards the foyer of our old Victorian-era house and I watched as I saw her heart literally drop in her chest. The door was wide open and Taylor was gone.
Due to the side effects of the drugs I am taking for my Lyme disease, most of my memory has been temporarily lost. There are a few events, people, and moments I haven’t forgotten. One of them is as clear in my mind as the day it happened; the day Taylor, my Autistic brother, wandered out of our inner city house and went missing.
“SARAH. PUT YOUR SHOES ON. WE HAVE TO FIND TAYLOR.”
As we ran down the stairs we saw our crazy neighbor Margaret holding our then new kitten, Samantha, in her arms. I don’t think mom said anything to Margaret, she just started running. Running through the traffic-filled streets, screaming and looking for Taylor. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt my heart pump so fast since that day.
Last week’s New York Times Op-ed highlights this issue. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/opinion/wandering-is-a-major-concern-for-parents-of-children-with-autism.html?src=rechp) The journal Pediatrics estimates that nearly 49% of people with Autism are prone to wander. With the rate of Autism now being 1 in 88, that’s a large number of people with Autism who are out in the world wandering.
Fortunately, we found Taylor that day. He was being carried by a man around the park near our house. I don’t ever want to think about the idea that we could have not found him that day. I’m not sure I would have been able to continue functioning if that was the case. However, not all parents and siblings are as lucky as we were. The case for a 14 year old Queens, NY boy is still active and while he is the most recent case, unfortunately he’s not the only one.
For many years after, I blamed myself for the fact that Taylor wandered out of our house– and yet I know that it wasn’t my fault. We had more locks on the doors in that house than a maximum security prison. Taylor is smart and can undo locks better than most locksmiths I know. He has wandered out of our current house many times even with deadbolts, spring locks, key locks, click locks, chains, and push and twist locks. He is just a smart kid with the desire to roam. And yet I worry, it wakes me up sometimes in the middle of the night. I never want to discover that my little brother is missing ever again.
Every morning that I wake and see him cuddled up and fast asleep in his bed, as I will this week when I head home, my body breathes relief. That sense of relief I feel is my gratitude– gratitude that we all made it through the night safe. Gratitude that I get another day to see his bright shining, smiley, loving face. And gratitude for myself that I have done my job as his sister to keep him safe. In turn, my gratitude has a transference of energy, love. I love on that kid so much more, more kisses, hugs, fist bumps, late night drives through the country listening to Taylor Swift, hikes, and more “YES’s” than “No’s” come out of my mouth. Love that so greatly permeates time and space, love that goes deep- as deep as the canyons and as high as the moon. Love that begins and ends with gratitude.
And so I challenge you PowerGirl, to truly dive deep this week into your soul and find the places where gratitude flows out of you.