A few weeks ago we enjoyed a vacation on Kiawah Island, and I spent three hours bicycling the streets with Martin and his stuffed panda bear in a cart attached to my bicycle.
Every fellow cyclist and pedestrian greeted us. “Good morning!” “Why, hello!” “Happy New Year!” “Some kind of fine weather today, isn’t it?” Even the drivers waved from the luxury cars that drifted by, obedient to the posted speed limits. I hardly bothered removing my smile between encounters.
This is the good life, I thought. The whole scene—planned community, bicycle paths, golf courses, herons, salt marshes, palmettos, beach, fine houses neatly kept—felt Disney, if not Stepford, and I devoured the insouciance. It’s invigorating, to be carefree once in a while.
“Well, look at this guy,” an older woman said, fawning over Martin when I stopped to check my map. “He’s got the best seat in the house.”
“He does,” I said. “He’s just zooming along while I do all the work.”
I mounted the bicycle again and pedaled away. I was happy that the woman had admired Martin.
In a moment, I wondered, Would she have acted the same if she knew the kid in my cart has autism?
And, Would any of this be different if the kid in my cart didn’t have autism? Does it always have to matter?
In 2008 I attended a fundraiser for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a group that facilitates ministry calls for openly gay (including non-celibate) clergy. Under the ELCA’s policy at that time, gay and lesbian clergy could serve only if they practiced celibacy; like everyone else at the fundraiser, I opposed that policy and favored allowing non-celibate homosexual clergy to serve just like non-celibate heterosexual clergy.
The ELM representative who attended, I remember, said something like this (I’m paraphrasing wildly, on several years’ sketchy memory): “The church policy might seem like the biggest obstacle in the world, right now. But it isn’t. The policy is like this cell phone.” Here she held up her mobile phone, then balanced it unsteadily on its side atop an end-table. “We can just knock it down.” She tipped over the phone. “We can just knock over that policy and move on.”
That’s the way autism recovery feels. Some days, ASD is the biggest obstacle in the world, this lurking beast that colors even a halcyon Kiawah bike ride. Other days, especially when Martin is showing growth, ASD is that mobile phone teetering on an end-table. It’s changeable.
In 2009, the year after that fundraiser, a Churchwide Assembly amended the ELCA’s clergy guidelines to remove the requirement of homosexual celibacy. ELCA churches now can issue calls to gay and lesbian clergy in committed same-sex relationships.
Which is to say, we knocked it over and moved on. And maybe it really doesn’t matter if the kid in my bicycle cart has autism.