I’d like to use this space today to do someone a small favor.
This dear woman reached out to me recently, referred by a mutual friend. She happens to be a jewelry stylist, and she wanted to donate some bracelets for Autism Awareness Month. I’m touched by her generosity and The Orange County Asperger’s Support Group benefitted.
She and I exchanged many emails and finally, after our “business” was done, she sent me a note and asked me to help her find someone. If this person is you, please let me know!
“…I told you that I wanted to share a letter with you. I’m ashamed to say that this ‘letter’ took six months to write for no good reason. I wrote it thinking about posting it to my FB because I cannot get this woman—this hero—out of my mind. Here goes:
Early the morning of Monday, October 22, 2012, I was flying from Madison, WI to Chicago on my way to return to California. I had just had a wonderful visit with my mother in Madison and although I was sad to leave her, I was ready to get back home to my family. I was also excited about beginning a new job the next day.
I took the first American flight out that morning—I’m not sure if American has renumbered it since then so I won’t give the flight number. All that I know was that it was dark and once seated nobody on the flight seemed to be awake. As soon as we boarded, shades were drawn and the passengers weren’t even interested in coffee; they didn’t want to wake up quiet yet; instead I guess they were hoping to catch a few last zzzz’s before reaching Chicago and/or flying off to other destinations.
My seat was toward the back of the plane. As I settled in, I became aware of the sound of a children’s cartoon. I smiled to myself thinking, ‘Some little one sure had to get out of bed early.’ Pieces of the cartoon’s melody kept playing over and over to the point where I looked back to see if the DVD was stuck on one track.
The tune was indeed coming from a DVD but I soon realized that the listener was purposely replaying the same tune piece again and again. And, despite my prediction that the one listening was a ‘little one,’ the listener was in fact quite tall and muscular. My guess is that he was between 17 and 25 years old. He seemed to delight in his viewing and was very engaged in both the tune and the fast moving images across the screen.
Next to him was a very tired looking woman about my age. She was quiet and did not read a magazine. She didn’t have an iPad or a computer or knitting—she just sat quietly. She certainly wasn’t able to fall asleep because every minute or two the young man let out the biggest, loudest belly laugh I have ever heard. I couldn’t help but smile thinking that if the whole world laughed like that, there’d be no hate or terrorism.
It was obvious at least to me that the young man had some form of autism. He seemed content in his world and I’m sure that he didn’t intend to disrupt anyone around him.
Except that lovely belly laugh did. After watching two or three passengers craning their necks to get a glimpse of the back two seats in the plane, I wondered, did his mother purposely sit him in the very last seats of the plane thinking that the environment would be less disruptive to him? Less disruptive to the other passengers? I think that most passengers were baffled about the noise because the airplane was dark so it was difficult to make out who the mystery passenger was or what the source of the ‘disruption’ was.
I remember one passenger calling over the flight attendant to ask angrily if ‘she would please tell the passenger who’s making all of the noise to quiet down so we can get some sleep?’ The flight attendant quietly said, ‘No, I don’t think that’s possible. Do you need a blanket?’ Good response, I thought.
I continued to think about that woman—probably the young man’s mother—and wondered about this trip: Did she travel often? (I doubt it). How early did she have to get up to get him ready and in his seat? (Probably earlier than I got up and I got up at 3:30 a.m.) Where were they going? How would the busyness of O’Hare affect him? Because he was such a big guy, would she be able to control him? How would she respond to the stares and whispers?
And I began to imagine her life: When was the last time she had some time alone with her own thoughts without cartoon reruns blaring or those spontaneous outbursts? How much of her life was devoted solely to caring for him? Was she able to have any hobbies? Could she ever enjoy a visit with her mother as I had just done? What was her life like when he became anxious or agitated?
I felt very small as I considered her big act of love and service to her son; the quiet perseverance that she no doubt had; the constant demands on ‘her’ life. Here, I had a tendency to get annoyed at the tiniest things and run out of energy after doing practically nothing. She probably didn’t have those luxuries.
My row departed the plane before she and her son got off. I was hoping to at least give her a kind smile and possible words of encouragement and tell her that I enjoyed her son’s laugh, but I lost track of them.
I saw them through the crowd at O’Hare. She was walking quietly beside her son who was looking down at the DVD player he was holding and spontaneously laughing. I smiled.
I told myself that I would find her and write a note to her of encouragement, but of course ‘things’ got in my way. This is that letter.
As a stylist for Stella and Dot, I would like to gift her with an item for our Autism Awareness Collection (photo below). Proceeds go to the HollyRod Foundation. It would be my honor to recognize what a special woman she is and to thank her son for letting me know what a real belly laugh sounds like.”
So I’m posting this in hopes of finding this woman. She likely lives in the Madison area since the American Airlines flight originated there, or maybe she was visiting the same time as my friend. Again the flight was the morning of Oct. 22, 2012.
This is the “spirit” bracelet which denotes the wonderful yet complicated beauty of autism. Twenty percent of these sales goes to the HollyRod Foundation [www.hollyrod.org] to support autism.
If you’re not familiar with Stella and Dot, you can get more information on the stylist’s webpage: www.stelladot.com/debbieleander.