Monday, September 19, 2005

I got a little intense

This post is just a cut and paste from my old journal. I just wanted to get rid of the other link!

I love words. I love they way they twist and turn unexpectedly to form feelings and opinions and poetry and anger and love. I love the way they bubble over and spill out sparkling and popping when I’m excited about something or the warm way they flow into and fill my heart when someone I love tells me they love me too.

But sometimes words just don’t seem to do it. Sometimes they aren’t enough to express what we really mean, what we really feel. I always want to mean what I say, to say what I really mean, like Horton the Elephant, but sometimes I can’t. Like when the sun is sinking in the wintry west behind the chilly trees, the bright oranges and blues contrasting so beautifully behind the dark forms of the geese flying over the sleepy quiet browned hilltop. I just gave it my best shot, but I can’t use words to describe what I really feel watching this because it’s honestly inexpressibly lovely, still, and soothing, and even though it happens at the end of every single day, it’s always new and different.

I work with a little girl who has no words. Jena is a completely beautiful child with long, shiny, blonde-tipped black hair, perfectly shaped dark almond eyes and rosy pink cheeks that get even rosier when she laughs, and she laughs a lot. She is affected by autism spectrum disorder, and even though she is six years old, she can’t speak. Every day her family, her teachers, her therapists work with her to try to teach her, among other things, to use words, to know them, to understand them, to say them, to write them, to use them. She’s made a lot of progress over the past year that I’ve known her, and it’s amazing to be a part of. I was there when she said “hi” for the first time, and I was there when she wrote her name on a Magna Doodle for the first time.

I wish Jena could use words. I wish she could come home from school and tell me about her day, what she did in her classroom and who she played with at recess. I wish she could tell her mother how much she loves her. But I’ve realized that the really neat thing about Jena is that she doesn’t need words to tell us these things. I know how her day at school was by what she’s like when she gets home. She tells us when she’s tired, when she’s frustrated and when she’s happy, all without the use of words. When her mother gets home from work and calls her up for dinner, she lights up. She loves to sit in her mother’s lap and hug her and giggle with her. I know we all wish that she could look at her mother and say “I love you, Mommy” by herself, completely unprompted and clearly. But I know I can call out “I love you Mom!” as I’m running out the door to hang out with friends or go back to college and forget within two seconds that I even said it. Not because I don’t really love her, of course I do, but because they were just fleeting words said in habit. Stopping what I’m doing to find her, hug her and kiss her cheek would tell her I love her in a way the words I said can’t. That’s what Jena does. She shows us what she means instead of telling us. And we understand her. I understand just by looking at her when she’s mad at me, when she’s happy with me. I understand her without words.

There’s a man who lives in a kind of run down house on a street in the town I grew up in. Everyday, rain or shine, he stands out on the street by his mailbox for a couple of hours and waves at the cars that go by. It’s usually around the time that school lets out because he especially likes to wave at the buses from the high school up the road. Every opportunity I get I try to drive by his house, hoping he’s there. I have never once spoken to this man, but his face is etched into my mind, round and soft and chocolate and sweet, with big eyes that have crinkles on the sides from smiling so much. He knows my car because we’ve had it for years, my mom starting driving it when I was 12 and gave it me when I was a freshman in college. I drive down that road whenever I come home from school. I get really excited when I see that he’s out and get ready and roll my window down, rain or shine. I honk my horn and wave like mad and he waves back and blows kisses at me. He doesn’t blow kisses at everyone, but he blows them at me and waves longer than he does at other cars. This makes me feel special, and I smile a lot even after I roll the window back up.

I know that by society’s standards it’s not very “normal” to stand outside and wave at cars everyday. But then, society as a whole rarely goes out of its way to wave at anyone they don’t know, to brighten anyone’s day. I’m sure that this man was called “special” at school growing up, and though I don’t know exactly what his medical records say, I think he’s special for other reasons. I think he’s special because he thinks I’m special, and because he makes a lot of people happy every day without even saying a word to them.

Language is an incredible gift. I hope that Jena someday learns how to open this gift. We read books together every time I’m with her, really brilliant books by wonderful authors like Dr. Seuss and Audre. Dr. Seuss even makes up his own words, which is really cool to me. Whenever I try to make up my own words my friends just make fun of me. I want Jena to think that words are really great too, but somehow I think she feels like she doesn’t really need them just yet. Jena shows us what she thinks and what she feels, it’s all right there written on her face. So as much as I hope that we teach Jena how to speak and how to write, how important and lovely words are, I hope that she keeps teaching us how important it is to be honest about what you think and feel, to be expressive through smiles and frowns, tears and laughter, hugs and kisses and songs, teaching us that sometimes words really aren’t so important, that you can brighten someone’s day with a simple hug or kiss. Or even just a wave.

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