The Boy

Putting my writing out there takes all of my guts. Weird coming from a Three Day Eventer, right? How is sharing my writing any different than competing in front of a crowd? Any time we put one foot in the sand arena we have the potential to fail miserably and humiliate ourselves in the process. Writing is no different. I should be used to the prospect of both, but still, I’ve held back until now.

Sharing my writing makes me feel very exposed, like I’m dancing naked in front of everybody. Honestly, I think my surgery is what gives me the courage to put my stuff out there (that and drugs, anyway). When a group of people has seen your insides, as well as your outsides, what’s left to hide?

I overcome this feeling of “dancing naked in a crowd” by telling myself no one is actually watching. This is likely more accurate than not, and that’s okay. I’ve removed my handcuffs and given myself permission to let the world be my stage, and to find the truth there.

Seth Godin says, “If failure is not an option, then, most of the time, neither is success.”

He’s right.

Right now, my writing feels somewhat contrived, formulaic, and young. Yes, I’m writing about my own experiences, but the memories stored seem much more polished and eloquent in my head than they do when they hit paper. It comes out of me one plastic shovelful of wet sand at a time, all gritty, messy, and sticky.

In Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” she says, “You are going to have to give and give and give or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward.”

This is a daunting task. The flip side of being a tough and strong person is also being incredibly sensitive. Protecting the fragility of my heart has left a patchwork of scars born of both beauty and pain. Unlike my surgery, taking a scalpel to it isn’t possible. This will require some coaxing, but I have one foot in the sand arena, so it’s a start.

Below is something I wrote in 2016 and recently updated.  Three years ago, I had an unexpected, and beautiful, experience that touched me very deeply.

The Boy

I was waiting to board my second flight. It was a long day of travel across the United States. I longed to be outside in the sun, which drew me to the windows to admire its cast on the day. I noticed a small group of people making their way across the tarmac to the plane that would take me home.  At the core of the slow moving processional was a wheelchair. I watched them pull up at the stairway into the plane.

My curiosity didn’t waver. How exactly does someone with a handicap board a plane from the tarmac? At last, a boy rose from his chair with help from a couple of people in his small group. I noticed he was shaped like softly curved switchbacks. With an awkward, stunted step, he grabbed the railing of the staircase and stepped up, in tandem with the man behind him. He moved up the steps like a puppeteer was erratically pulling his strings, one string at a time. The boy disappeared into the plane and I turned away from the window.

I was surprised to find I was sitting in the row behind him. Instantly I could see the boy had a beautiful smile, and though he looked to be eighteen or nineteen years old, he spoke like he was five. He was traveling with his mother.

For two hours, I had a bird’s eye view into their lives. I felt like I was invading their privacy, but I couldn’t look away. The mother was trying to read a magazine, or at least flip leisurely through the pages. Undeterred, the boy cupped his mother’s face between his twisted hands, and pulled her face close to his, so their noses were almost touching. Looking through the sliver between their seats, I saw them lock eyes.

He said, “I love you so much, Mommy.”

Softly, she said, “I love you too, Thomas.”

I felt the tears welling up inside me. I blew my nose.

I can’t really explain it any better than this. In that split second, I knew God existed. God lived in that mangled body. He lived in Thomas.

I’ve had this revelation once before. When I pulled JB up after our first ride together, I patted him on the neck softly, overcome with emotion. I looked up to the sky with tears in my eyes and said, “Thank you.” I can’t tell you why or what made me do it. I just knew that anything created with such beauty and grace, and perfection, came from somewhere not of this world. Some things you just know. But that’s a different story for a different day. 

Momentarily satisfied with his mother’s response, Thomas went back to playing with the two well-worn stuffed bears he had with him. When he turned once again to his mother and said, “I missed you so much, Mommy,” I could only surmise the two of them had been separated for a period of time. He put his head on her shoulder. With much tenderness, she rested her face against his dirty blonde hair.  He reached his arms out and hugged her as best he could, despite the seatbelt holding him back.

He whispered, “You’re my best friend, Mommy.”

I grabbed another tissue. I couldn’t really understand why I was affected in such a profound way by this boy. There was something so pure and true that came from deep inside of him; that was him. My heart burst into a million little pieces.

As the plane ride continued, we hit massive amounts of turbulence. My stomach was in knots, but with every jolt, Thomas put his hands in the air full of joy. He laughed and squealed “Weeeee!” as the plane rocked back and forth and jumped up in the air. I couldn’t help but laugh. Pretty soon, he had every seat around us laughing at his childish exuberance. It was a sweet reminder. What good does it do to worry and fret?

Thomas was, quite simply, infectious.

When the ride smoothed out and the passengers had relaxed, Thomas looked at his mother and said, “My eyes are beautiful too, Mommy,” in response to a conversation he was hearing. His mother agreed, and so did I. They were indeed beautiful.

I wondered what it must be like for Thomas’ mother, to have a special needs child. How did it feel to know your child would always be a child? For two hours he repeatedly touched his mother, calling her softly, trying to engage her. I could see that she was gentle and patient; accustomed to her child’s endless need for affection and acknowledgement. How did she do it?

Even bottomless love can be exhausting.

After we landed, Thomas and his mother both stood to deplane, Thomas balancing himself on the backs of the seats. Even though we were in the front of the plane, they didn’t get very far because Thomas had to hug each and every flight attendant and tell them “thank-you.” It was hard not to register the sheer delight on each of their faces as he embraced each of them with his crippled body.

After we all departed, I could still hear Thomas in the airport gleefully extolling “Weeeee!” as his mother wheeled him to baggage claim. I couldn’t help but laugh once again at his sweet innocence. He was the embodiment of all the love and goodness to be found in this world. He was proof that love can be found anywhere.

Even in a broken shell.


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