Every year between Thanksgiving break and Christmas vacation, I teach an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol with my seventh grade English classes. Like my students, I am fascinated with the ghosts and the scenarios they show the main character Scrooge to help him change his ways. After the ghost of Jacob Marley, his friend and business partner, warns Scrooge of the three ghosts who will visit him, the first ghost to appear is the Ghost of Christmas Past, complete with light streaming from his head, symbolizing that he will enlighten Scrooge by showing him important memories from his past. If the Ghost of Past came to visit me, I can imagine being shown taking little Alex to every therapy I could find for him: speech, occupational, sensory integration, visual, and cranial. In these scenes from the past, when I’m not working with Alex and trying to improve his speech, fine motor, or social skills, I am hunched over a computer or a book, researching and making sure that I know everything I can about autism and how to help him. After watching these scenes of my fretting over Alex, I imagine that the ghost would suggest to me that I often wasted time worrying instead of enjoying those early years with Alex. Older and wiser, I would agree with that assessment and vow to live with less fear and more faith so that I could enjoy days instead of enduring them.
After my journeys with the Ghost of Christmas Past, the friendly giant Ghost of Christmas Present would arrive with his glowing torch and show my life as it currently exists. The little boy Alex has now grown into the six-foot-tall young man Alex, who spends a great deal of time hunched over a computer or a book, researching and making sure that he knows everything about the world. While he still struggles with speech, fine motor, and social skills, he generally functions fairly well in many day-to-day routines. I imagine that the Ghost of Present would also show scenes of Alex doing typical things: watching sports on television with Ed, enjoying dinner at a restaurant with us, playing games with me, taking out the garbage, and listening to his favorite music, among other things. Observing Alex engaged in normal activities would make me smile and remind me that he has made good strides since those early days; moreover, he continues to make progress in various ways over time.
With the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Future, I would empathize with Scrooge when he says, “Ghost of the Future! I fear you more than any specter I have seen.” While the future holds many uncertainties for all, as the parent of a child with autism, I worry what Alex’s life will be as he grows older. Will he be independent? Will he be happy? Most of all, what will happen when we’re not around to take care of him and to try to make his life happy, should he still need supervision and help? When my mind goes to those dark places, I want answers, just as Scrooge does in his vision of the future: “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of the things that may be only?” Just as Scrooge has to face the future with hope, I have to reflect on the grace of God, who has led us through the past, guides us in the present, and will watch over us in the future. I need to have faith that God loves Alex even more than Ed and I do, and He will protect him if we cannot. As we step into the unknown, I know that He already has a plan, and I need to trust that the future—just as the past was and the present is—will be fine. And so, in the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”
“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Matthew 6:27