On my refrigerator is a precious piece of work titled “Charlie’s List of Food He Doesn’t Like.” Charlie is my son. This brilliant solution came from a row we had one morning when I served him a breakfast burrito. With his furloughed brow and deep, panicked breaths he said, in a pleasant voice, “Uh, I don’t like breakfast burritos.” His not liking the food I prepare has been a source of tension for me his entire life. There are many foods he doesn’t like, and I confess that I often ignore his dislikes in my effort to produce one dinner that my whole family can eat, that isn’t every night a plate of pasta with marinara sauce. I sometimes lose my cool when he when gives me his familiar “I don’t like it“ line. I don’t yell or slam doors, but there is a clear exasperation in my voice when I tell him he is free to find something in the fridge that he does like. He feels terrible. I feel terrible. And the pattern repeats. But on the morning of the burrito, Charlie came up with a solution. He put two sticky notes on the fridge listing the foods he doesn’t like, with the loving intent to make menu planning easier. He was so proud of this idea, and each item was so carefully thought out and written. The list has been on our fridge ever since to remind me of his dislikes, but moreover, reminding me of his effort to restore the peace in our kitchen.
Charlie is the eldest of my three sons. He was diagnosed with autism at age three, and he is now 23. If I am honest, being his mother has been hard. Of course there have been many moments filled with great joy and the tenderest love I’ve ever known, but if I am real, it has not been easy. Parenting him can be isolating, lonely, frustrating, depressing, confusing, expensive, exhausting, and more. My feelings have run the gamut of fear, guilt, powerlessness, hopelessness, rejection, disgust, and shame. These are all judgments that I have cultivated in the quiet of my ego. In my deepest internal conversations, I have asked God why this had to happen to Charlie, and why to my family? These aren’t inspiring words or feelings to read, in fact, they’re hideous to read. They feel hideous to write. But, if I am not completely authentic in the sharing of my experience, then no purpose is served.
October of 2016 changed everything I knew about Charlie. I began a course in Soul Centered Living at the University of Santa Monica to understand what it means to be spiritual and to investigate the possibility of a spiritual orientation in my own life. On the very first night of class, I was invited to consider the possibility that we are all divine souls having human experiences, and to consider the possibility that a soul chooses the human experience it will live in service to its awakening and evolution, and it keeps at it, over many lifetimes, until full consciousness or full expression of its loving essence is achieved. This idea captivated me. It resonated with me. I loved the language introducing the idea, “consider the possibility,” as well as the radical movement in my long entrenched thinking patterns. I was opened and changed.
Charlie’s soul chose his life in service to his awakening and is having the very experiences he needs to grow and evolve? He sought these experiences before I felt his first kicks in my womb? My life was flooded with a new light, a new perspective, and incredible love. I sobbed for hours. I mean I sobbed! It was such a profound insight for me. Instantly I saw him and knew him in a new way. I’m not sure I’ve ever known reverence as I did for Charlie in that moment. I was awed by the courage of his soul to take on the challenging and difficult life experience I perceived him to have. If you parent or live with someone with special needs, you may know the experience I refer to – the judgment, marginalization, and alienation that we feel. After years of viewing him as “disabled” and “disadvantaged,” I suddenly knew him not only as my equal, another soul on a journey, but moreover, one who is far more valiant than I.
This moment was the beginning of a paradigm shift and the birth of a new relationship with my son. We are equals. He is not the unfortunate heir of defective genes. Rather, he is a soul, like I am, who chose his human experience for his awakening and upliftment. My own judgments of Charlie, myself, and my conflicted emotions have been largely lifted. The term “disabled” no longer fits. He, in fact, is uber-abled.
The freedom that comes with this huge paradigm shift is a gift. The clearing of our misconceptions of Charlie helps remove the subliminal negative energy that we occasionally feel in our lives and in our home. The release of this latent negativity enhances our personal power and creative strength. When the negativity is gone, there is so much room for new possibility. It frees all of us who love him, to grow in all spheres of life. This freedom is everything.
Marianne Williamson, in a favorite book of mine, A Return to Love, shares that a miracle is a shift in perception, which results in a shift in energy, which results in a change in behavior or perceived reality, which is the miracle. I paraphrase, but her point was clear and intelligible when I first read it years ago. The reason I find it so poignant is because it is actionable. She introduced the idea that I can “co-create” miracles. By changing my perception of happenings around me, I can actually manifest them.
Our miracle is happening. I considered a new possibility and everything changed. My whole understanding of my son’s life with special needs and his purpose in this world has been blown wide open, along with my heart. I offer my personal experience to anyone and everyone who lives or works with disabled individuals, or anyone else who stands to benefit from new possibilities, with the hope that my paradigm shift will resonate with some. Consider the possibility that your child or sibling very intentionally chose their human experience for learning. It’s quite something.