By Barb Arland-Fye
Unexpectedly, my husband Steve and I had to break our family ritual — attending Saturday night Mass at our parish followed by dinner and bonding with one or both of our sons at our house. The unpleasant surprise raised our son Colin’s anxiety level. He depends on advance notice of change.
Our son Patrick helped us to avert a crisis by offering to take Colin to Mass and out to dinner afterwards. Patrick has grown in his relationship with his older brother and has learned to accept the quirky behavior that comes with autism, which is an answer to prayer. However, the break in routine caused Colin to resort to his default coping mechanism, sharing personal information with friends and strangers at church and in the restaurant.
Patrick and I still cringe at this display of “TMI” (Too Much Information), perhaps because we think the recipients of this information will consider our family odd. In a Christian setting, that should be the least of our concerns. Overcoming our embarrassment remains a work in progress.
On Saturday night, Patrick did not get embarrassed. He prepared for the inevitable blurting out of details because he realizes that parishioners accept Colin, whose idiosyncrasies are more obvious than our idiosyncrasies.
One parishioner, who demonstrates compassion toward Colin, sat beside our sons at church, Patrick said. When Colin expressed anxiety about his parents not being present, the parishioner pointed out, reassuringly, “your brother Patrick is here.”
After Mass, Patrick took Colin to his favorite restaurant, where all of the servers seem to know him. Colin shared personal information with one of the servers who stopped by the booth. His voice carried over to some of the other diners in the restaurant, which did cause Patrick to cringe. Colin does not intend to embarrass himself or us. The concept of embarrassment is unknown to him. He assumes that all people have his best interests in mind.
Christine Harris reports in American Scientist, “In the view of a number of theorists, embarrassment evolved to help undo the damage in situations where a person has unintentionally violated a social norm. The basic premise is that those who experienced and expressed distress over concerns with others’ impressions of them were more likely to survive as reproductive members of the group than those who acted with disregard for others’ opinions. Not caring about others’ reactions might have led one to be ostracized or banished, perhaps even killed” (https://tinyurl.com/yc8bkvyf).
All of us need to follow social norms that benefit the common good, including Colin. His skill building in that area has grown, but alleviating anxiety takes precedence for him. I am grateful he has a brother who cares deeply about him and strives to help him to cope with life’s upsets.
In “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis writes, “Relationships between brothers and sisters deepen with the passing of time” and “the style of fraternity radiates like a promise upon the whole of society”’ (No. 194). I see that promise radiating in our two sons, fostered by another observation Pope Francis makes. “It must be acknowledged that ‘having a brother or a sister who loves you is a profound, precious and unique experience’” (No. 195).
(Contact Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)