Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jazz and Joy

This past week, we took Alex to a jazz concert performed by the Faculty Jazz Trio at Valparaiso University. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, Alex loves jazz music, thanks to Ed, who introduced him to various types of jazz as they listened to CD’s together over the years. I suspect that Alex’s fondness for this type of music lies primarily in his association of jazz with pleasant times spent listening to the music with his dad. Additionally, I think he probably likes the instrumental music because he doesn’t have lyrics to distract him from the music itself. However, I also know that Alex has a special affection for any words that have two z’s in them: blizzard, drizzle, Rizzo (his favorite baseball player), pizza, and jazz.

Like Alex, I have developed an appreciation for jazz because of Ed’s interest in it. Once Alex became hooked on the music, I also learned to enjoy it even more because it was something we all could share as a family by going to concerts together. Similarly, I discovered an interest in NASCAR after seeing Ed and Alex thoroughly engaged in watching stock car races on television every weekend. Trying to figure out what they found so appealing, I, too, was drawn in to watching auto racing, which is now my favorite sport, as well as another common interest we share as a family.

One of the nice things about living in a college town is the opportunity to take Alex to various events that he finds entertaining, such as concerts. To be honest, any time we take him to events at the university, whether they be concerts, astronomy lectures, or sporting events, I feel a little wistful. As I see the college students who are about Alex’s age, I feel somewhat sad to recognize that they are living the life that Alex could be enjoying, had autism not affected his brain and made speech, fine motor, and social skills so difficult for him. Of course, he is oblivious to this realization, which is a blessing. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.

During the concert, Alex swayed to the music, watched the musicians intently, and smiled frequently as he showed delight at being able to be part of a live music event. As Ed commented afterward, the best part of the concert was watching Alex enjoy himself so much. Moreover, we were pleased to see that he has learned appropriate social behavior, sitting quietly, paying attention, and even knowing when to applaud. With jazz concerts, this takes some learning because applause is not limited to the ends of songs; Alex now knows that clapping is appropriate at the ends of solo performances within the songs. At one point between songs, he leaned over and quietly asked Ed why no one had played the saxophone that was placed on the stage, showing that he was very alert to what was happening. Ed explained that a guest musician was going to play the saxophone, and when the saxophone player joined the trio, Alex gave a knowing smile.

When I wasn’t watching the musicians who clearly loved playing music or Alex who clearly loved hearing music, I glanced around the audience to see others’ reactions. What I noticed was that none of the college students were nearly as engaged in the concert as Alex was. Looking bored or engrossed in whatever was on their phone screens, they were missing the enjoyment of the moment, the joy that Alex found in the music. Perhaps they were worried about studying they needed to do after the concert or concerned about keeping up their friendships through texting and social media—none of which bothers Alex because he doesn’t live the life of a college student.

While Alex may miss out on the typical things that college students enjoy, he also is spared from the worries many college students suffer. He just enjoys life to the fullest, delighted to go places, and he expresses his joy freely, not caring what anyone thinks of him. What makes Alex’s contentment even more special is remembering the dark times when anxiety held him captive and made him unable to experience joy. Although those times of sorrow seem wasted, we realize that we appreciate Alex’s happiness even more because it was restored to him and to us after many trials and heartaches.

As described in Chapter 61 of Isaiah, we are now living “The Year of the Lord’s Favor”: “And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours…All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” While we have gone through ordeals with autism, Alex has overcome many obstacles, and he faces life with appreciation for what he has instead of bitterness for what he has lost. Moreover, we have learned to face the future with faith and hope instead of fear. Truly, as the Psalmist proclaims, we “sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done marvelous things”!

“Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 51:11

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