By Barb Arland-Fye
We stood on a sturdy, wooden bridge at the bottom of a rugged trail shaded by an abundance of trees in Mississippi Palisades State Park north of Savanna, Illinois. It was Labor Day and I wanted one more family “selfie” to post on Facebook.
I walked off the end of the bridge and climbed just a short distance up the hill to get a good shot of the four of us — me, my husband Steve and our sons Colin and Patrick. The guys seemed too far away, so I asked them to walk off the bridge and they complied. That’s when I heard a “pop” and a groan coming from Patrick. Hopping off the bridge, he twisted his right ankle in a gap in the trail.
Silently, I prayed that Patrick could withstand the pain to climb the other side of the steep, narrow trail to the parking lot at Lookout Point. He soldiered on, clearly in pain but not complaining. In all of the years we’ve hiked this trail, I don’t think we’ve ever been more grateful to reach the parking lot!
The accident raised Colin’s anxiety level because it interrupted our plans and change is difficult for him to accept as an individual with autism. We drove out of the beautiful park, sad to have ended our visit without viewing the overlooks.
Colin began peppering Patrick with questions. “Will you be OK? Do you need help? Will you be able to take me home tonight, Patrick?” Patrick had other concerns on his mind, such as returning to work on Tuesday. His job requires plenty of walking and he can’t afford time off from work.
Colin loves his brother more than anyone else in the world but his autism causes him to focus on himself, especially when he feels distressed. His anxiety was raising the anxiety of everyone in the car. Coincidentally, I had been reading “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything” by Father James Martin, SJ, which focuses on raising our awareness of God’s nearness in our lives, the essential element of Ignatian spiritualty.
I sensed God nudging me to offer a reassuring but firm message to Colin, speaking with a soothing voice (sometimes my own isn’t so soothing and aggravates the situation!). I told him that Patrick didn’t know the answers to Colin’s questions and that he should take the focus off of himself to concentrate on helping Patrick to feel better. Dad would give Colin a ride home.
The questions stopped because Colin wanted Patrick to feel better — soon! Later, as we settled down in the family room at home where Patrick iced his ankle, Colin resumed asking questions, clearly needing reassurance to deal with the uncertainty. “Patrick, will I see you next Saturday? Will you go to Mass with us?” So much for calming instruction.
However, maybe that nudge from God was directed at me and not Colin. He wanted to watch the 4 p.m. TV news, which apparently is part of his daily routine after returning to his apartment from his day program. He turned on the news while I was reading my book. I asked him if he really needed to watch the news, since I was reading. He muted the TV, and that’s when I realized that I needed to practice what I had preached just an hour earlier. So I left the room, gracefully, to resume reading about the nearness of God in our lives.
(Contact Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)