Monday, October 13, 2008


So one of the decisions my wife and I made last year was to spend more time with Patrick working on his autism.  Our approach to doing so was to send him to school for half days (where they focus on the major academic subjects), and we take him in the afternoons.

As it works with my schedule, I pick him up right around 1:00, and today that happened to be my lunch hour.  So I took him with me to the local Dairy Queen, where I ordered a cheesburger, and he ordered a dish of vanilla ice cream.

But what was remarkable about the occasion today was that we were sitting there, eating, and I begin to notice Patrick moving his head.  Which didn't really seem very significant to me.  I mean, autism spectrum kids will do these weird movements sometimes, right?  But then I noticed that the movement was, well, rhythmic.  In fact, it was timed to the song on the radio .

Pleased with what I saw, I started moving my head with him, smiling my satisfaction.  And to my great surprise, Patrick puts his hands up in the air, moving them back and forth (at one point he even modified this to include a kind of finger pointing thing).  He smiled back at me and laughed as we did our little dance together.

I'm not sure just quite what the good patrons of our local Dairy Queen thought of this exchange.  But as my son stood up out of his chair and went into full dance mode, I responded in kind without even thinking about it.  Patrick would add in these little variations to his dance, and would respond with laughter and understanding when I added in some of my own.  

It was this wondrous moment of movement, of coordination, of relationship, of joy.  I'm so happy to have had that moment with him.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm struck by the level of hatred I'm hearing about at McCain rallies. There are truly outrageous things being said by people in the crowd (e.g., calling Obama a "traitor," calling for Obama's head, etc.), and it really seems like the tone of those rallies is frightening.

Which is why I have to give credit where credit is due to McCain -- who today told the crowd that Obama is a good and decent American, that they would have nothing to fear from an Obama presidency.

I think it's arguable that the only decent thing McCain could do in response to these kind of comments was also the most politically risky -- to confront his supporters, to stand up for Obama's basic decency. His willingness to do so reminds me of what I have always admired about him.

Don't get me wrong, I'm an Obama supporter. But in a political system that seems to drift towards the demonization of our opponents, I think it's important to take notice when somebody bucks that trend.

Well done, Senator McCain. Thank you.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

an observation...

The negative smears by the McCain/Palin campaign are essentially arguing guilt by association -- Obama has "associated with" Rev. Wright, knows Mr. Ayers, so therefore he must approve of their beliefs and actions.

But when someone at a Palin rally calls for Senator Obama's head? We're told that they're just loonies.

Look, I'm not arguing here that Palin or McCain are responsible for the conduct of everyone at their rallies. I just think it's equally as silly to hold Obama responsible for the beliefs or conduct of everyone he's ever had an association with.

Frankly, this tactic smacks of desperation. It's beneath the honor of someone with McCain's distinguished background, and I think he knows it. I think that's why he's so grumpy lately.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

on my radar

I was reading an article about family therapy recently, and the author was talking about the level of noise that can occur in unhappy families. The idea is that there can be so much commotion, so much noise that important messages are lost, are no longer heard. So to be effective, a therapist sometimes has to up the ante -- has to give a message enough emotional "oomph" to make sure that it is heard. The example the author gave was of showing a family that scene of the traumatized horse from "The Horse Whisperer" (where they bind its legs while talking soothingly to it) in order to make a point about setting limits while communicating safety and caring.

But what struck me about that notion today is how things can fail to get our notice, fail to arise compassion in us. I think about Jacob's struggles at school (that I posted about earlier) as one example of this -- how it took him lying down on the garage floor before my compassion finally kicked in.

I suppose this is, to some degree, necessary. It's like how the biblical teaching to "love thy neighbor as thyself" can't be taken too literally because it would be all consuming and ultimately counter-productive. We need to insulate ourselves to some degree, to filter, to prioritize. I suppose it could be said that all of this makes some degree of "noise."

But I think it is also true that (to use another biblical metaphor) our hearts can be hardened if we are not careful. We can become so preoccupied with our own concerns, worries, and cares that the proverbial noise turns into a kind of cacophony that very little can penetrate. Or we could think of it as a kind of emotional armor that keeps virtually any touch from getting through.

It is better, it seems to me, to strive for a softened heart. Better to face pain, to be open to it, to face it and respond lovingly to it. Better to let our difficult emotions wake us up, soften our hearts, awaken our capacity for compassion, for love.