Starting Point
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Issue Date:  October 7, 2005

Starting Point


My son Eric dropped his backpack on the kitchen floor one autumn afternoon and headed for the refrigerator. Because of autism, he had spent six years at a private boarding school, but he was now home for public high school. His return brought renewed life to our family, making it feel like spring. When I mentioned that, he replied, “It’s not spring. It’s fall.” He was still too literal, but at least he used contractions.

One of the joys of having him home was attending Sunday Mass together. I was pleased and surprised that, unlike many adolescents I had taught, he was always eager to go. During liturgy he was perfectly content -- yet perfectly silent.

When the congregation sang, he ignored the hymnal and kept quiet. Though he knew the Gloria, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and all the responses, he said not a word. He seemed happy just being there, as if he considered Mass another event where others would bear the burden of speech.

That bothered me. I wanted him to participate as fully as he could, but I didn’t want to pour vinegar down the well of his lovely attitude. I decided to watch for an opportune time to talk to him about appropriate behavior at Mass. In the backyard, sunlight played among the trees. While Eric munched on crackers and I emptied the dishwasher, we chatted about his day. He finished his milk, and I judged that the moment had come. “Eric,” I began, “what do you think would be a good way for us to show that we love God?”

He leaned his lanky frame across the counter and thought a bit before answering. “Probably the best way is to treat other people well.” Speechless, I sat down. I scrapped my mental “lesson plan,” then recovered enough to say, “You’re exactly right.”

He picked up his backpack and went to his room. Outside, leaves were falling, but within me something new was budding. I wondered what I would learn at my next teachable moment.

Carolyn P. Lawrence writes from Williamsburg, Va.

National Catholic Reporter, October 7, 2005

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