Wit: New Connections

Photo by Pete G

By Joanne Moon

I have a son who is autistic. He is just past the category of non-verbal into a sort of pre-conversation. He can sound out words, repeat words and at times intentionally use them, usually just one at a time or in a pre-formulated and scripted way. If an average six year old has approximately 2600 expressive vocabulary and 20,000-24,000 words of receptive vocabulary, you can imagine my eight year old is working with far less at his disposal, at least in the expressive speech department. Only the Lord knows the fullness and depth of him.

All our efforts toward behavioral, speech and occupational therapy and weaving alternative methods of nurturing connection like SonRise and Floortime did not yield much headway into the direction of conversation as my husband and I had dreamed whenever we were able to get a thin slice of shut eye. Mostly, we went on dreaming with our eyes wide open. For someone who loves connection like me, conversation seemed key; that key was lost somewhere and we were flipping our neatly set up life upside down trying to recover it.

We wanted our son to be able to answer basic questions, if not as a building block for flourishing relationships, then at least for safety reasons. The world can be dangerous with unforeseen, God-forbid sort of unthinkables. What’s your name? How old are you? What’s your mom’s phone number? We would drill into him. What school do you go to? What’s your address? We’d ask, knowing full well that any change in life – such as future move of school or home – would make a wash of all our efforts and bring us back to square one.

Can you imagine how annoying this can be? If I am honest, the intensity of our efforts can reveal our forethought and wise anticipation as much as our secret beastly anxieties. What’s your name? What’s your name? Do you know your name? Will that be enough to keep you safe?

To the endless demands to secure the illusive peace, my son looked at me one day and paused. What’s your name? I asked again. He didn’t answer. His eyes wandered to the playground. Oh no, honey, give me eyes – look me in the eyes. What’s your name? In the nanosecond, I saw his eyes brighten and glimmer to flash a mischievous little boy that I had long forgotten. Still insisting on my parental authority, er, weakness, I repeated, What’s your name? We just did this yesterday – did he forget? Is there too much stimuli around us? As the beast of anxiety began to wrap his intimidating claws around me, an otherworldly, cheery voice broke its grip.

My son spoke with an ear-to-ear smile – I’m slide! I drew a blank. You’re… what? I’m slide! He said, not just with his words, but with his twinkling, staying eyes, leaning his posture toward me. He looked again at the slide and then back at me, as if for me to track with him – do you see what I see, Mom? – and smiled his dashing forgiving smile. Come on, mommy, join me. I already know my name. Instead, I’m going to surprise you by saying I am the first fun thing I see over there. I’m trying to get you to lighten up, he seemed to be saying. You seem stressed; maybe even scared. Take off your anxieties.

I’m slide! My son had made his first joke.

Faith rose up in me in that moment. My son led me out of the stiff and stuffy quasi conversation – the same old I was demanding day in and day out — into something new, something fresh, something like a breakthrough. He found a delightful escape from my incessant drills by turning it on its head and making a new connection! Oh, how surprising it was! How quick, how artful, how witty! By that simple, creative connection of seemingly unrelated – even wrong – things, my son made a way where there seemed to be no way, inviting me into genuine connection my heart so longed for.

Wit as a Christian virtue reflects Christ who bridged the separateness between God and humanity. When humanity had no way of pulling itself up and through the narrow gates of the Kingdom of God, Christ laid himself down and made Way. He is our Truth, offering us a whole new world with a new fantastic point of view. He is Life, empowering us to live Life as Christ calls, because his Life courses through us now. Through Christ, we are welcomed into God’s kingdom from ours, from death into life. What once seemed worlds apart has come together now. Christ has drawn near, so close that he lives in us and we in him. He gives us new breath, new meaning, new reality.

Wit is the spirit that brings and binds together what was once disparate and unrelated to have new meaning. Independent pieces that, at best, sat next to each other clunky and lifeless, are brought together looking like they belong, for good, for real good. Wit has us saying, I hadn’t thought of it that way before! I never thought those two separate ideas can yield such insightful and pleasant meaning when brought together in this way! Wit plants a new mustard seed of possibility and kneads in a sprinkle of yeast into the mundane and invites us to watch grace do its thing – God’s thing – raising and rising it to new, sudden and surprising life where we had not expected, for our enjoyment.

Shakespeare said “brevity is the soul of wit.” My son’s lean vocabulary has since only added delight and gratitude whenever I happen upon – am gifted with – his witty, charming, wonderful self. Autism still dots our lives with chaotic, confusing and frenzied scatters of dots; but I am looking with eyes of faith, looking for signs of grace. I am looking with Jesus to connect the dots, hand-in-hand, anticipating new connections.

Joanne Moon is a wholehearted wife and mom who is prayerfully and playfully engaging the world through conversation with God and people. She is in deep study of soul care and spiritual formation and grapples with race, disability and community as a necessary part of that conversation. She loves to write, take pictures and tell a story. She loves to look you deep in your soul and listen to yours, too. Together with her husband and three children, they are navigating the adventure that autism brings with God’s enduring companionship and the support of family and friends.

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