By Barb Arland-Fye
Having encouraged readers of The Catholic Messenger to attend the Vote to End Hunger Rally in Des Moines, I felt compelled to do the same. But I wanted someone to keep me company on the drive. My husband, Steve, who is on vacation, got recruited. He reminded me, however, that someone needed to be at Sled Hockey with our older son, Colin, who looks forward to this recreational activity for people with and without disabilities. It looked like I was going to have to go alone until Colin, who overheard our conversation, asked about my trip to Des Moines. “Do you want to go with?” I asked him. “Will I miss Sled Hockey?” he asked. “Yes,” I told him. That seemed to be OK, provided I inform staffers who look out for him and his roommate. No problem, I said, amazed that our son with autism was willing to consider a significant change in his Sunday routine.
On Sunday, Nov. 8, the three of us took off on our road trip. Our younger son, Patrick, had other plans and couldn’t go with us. He figured Colin was willing to make this trip because he’d have three “Fyes” together instead of two. That was as close as he could get to having all four Fyes together. From Colin’s perspective, “four Fyes” makes a whole. That’s what it means to be family. But our atlas-loving older son had an extra incentive: traveling on his all-time favorite road: Interstate 80. When we picked him up at his apartment, Colin was carrying his book bag and wearing a worn-out Special Olympics sweatshirt he’s had since about the age of 12 (he’s 28). Some things are nonnegotiable. We had beautiful weather for the drive and stopped on the way at McDonald’s, one of his favorite fast-food restaurants.
We arrived at Grand View University in Des Moines with time to spare and visited booths featuring a variety of organizations, including the main sponsors — the Iowa Catholic Conference and Bread for the World. Colin tends to get distracted in a room with lots of people and activity. I wondered if the speakers would keep his attention during the two-hour event. Emcee Kathie Obradovich provided some relief, telling the audience at the start to feel free to get up and move around as needed.
All of the speakers delivered compelling messages; Steve and Colin stayed for about half of the speeches before going out into the lobby for a break. On the drive home, Colin — still wearing his name tag and a pin that reads “Vote to End Hunger” — told me he was glad he went to Des Moines and that he liked the rally. He sometimes misses body language and social cues, but not heartfelt emotion. He remembered what Jean Rolfe of Dubuque, Iowa, had to say because she choked up sharing her story of hunger, poverty and homelessness in the wake of the break-up of her marriage due to domestic violence. He understood why she was sad about having to tell her four young sons that “we have no place to live and we have no food. I don’t know what we’re going to do.” But Colin also heard the message that Jean got help from Dubuque food pantries and that she can’t let anyone else go hungry because she knows what that is like.
Reflecting on the day’s events, I sensed God’s grace through and through. Colin was the most attentive I’ve seen him at a public event. He accepted change with grace. He learned that other people have needs and that we can work together to stop hunger and poverty.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)