by: Emily Colson
Hear Emily Colson live on Dr. Tim Clinton’s American Family Radio show, “Turn it Around.” Click here to tune in at 12p.m. (ET), tomorrow, September 20.
Max couldn’t cope with people unless they were on the floor playing trains with him. These were dignified people who weren’t there to crawl around the carpet with a two-year-old. I didn’t think anyone noticed when I took Max to the backroom and stayed there with him for the next hour and a half, alone. I could hear their voices mumbling in the background, punctuated with bursts of laughter. I kept thinking how beautiful and perfect these people looked. They were slick and coiffed, the way I looked as a designer.
Actually, the fact that they had showered put them in a different social class. I was Pigpen, the little comic strip character, walking along with an enormous cloud of soil billowing around me. I read books to Max, and we played with blocks, something I normally loved, but it felt hollow. Wasn’t anyone missing us? I felt I’d been assigned to the wobbly little aluminum children’s table in the kitchen, while all the fancy guests enjoyed the real party. Aching with loneliness, I could hear them starting to say their good-byes. But before they left I overheard the man say, “Emily is so filled with grace. You can just see it in her.”
Grace? Was that my consolation prize? If this man could see grace, how did he miss seeing my enormous swirling turmoil? It made me furious…and jealous of their seemingly perfect lives. I didn’t need velvet-covered clichés. I needed love and comfort. I needed help.
It was the week before Christmas, a time when my dad and Patty always delivered their ministry’s Angel Tree gifts to local families whose children have a parent in prison. Max and I went along for the ride even though Max might be too afraid to enter the home and be a part of the delivery. I could always take him outside or wait in the car.
On the way there, Max sat in his car seat, sucking on his fingers, as the forty-minute drive lulled him. We talked about the family we were going to visit, the names and ages of the two little girls, and of the grandmother who was caring for them. Max just stared out the window as we drove along, and as I now know, was cataloging every street sign so that he could recite them back to me some ten years later.
Dad and Patty and I tried to simplify the concept, bring it down to the basics, hoping that Max might soak in something of the experience. “These children don’t have their mom or dad with them right now,” I said, “so they might feel a little sad. They need some love.” Max didn’t have any language to respond and, at that point, never responded positively to anything except being in my arms, my singing, the pool, or his books and trains. He never even turned when someone called his name. Max just stared out the window as I braced myself for the next challenge. The smoothly paved highway turned onto a rocky dirt road as we approached a clearing in the thick tropical foliage.
The dried beige lawn was newly mown around the tiny yellow ranch house the size of a trailer. The grandmother was standing on a wooden deck waiting for us, waving us in, watching as we stepped out of the car. I scooped Max into my arms and, with trepidation, followed my dad through the sliding glass door. A plate of cookies sat on the cloth-draped table surrounded by well-worn teacups, typically a lovely symbol of hospitality. But I couldn’t imagine Max and me lingering over a cup of tea. I searched across the room to find the two young girls, just a little older than Max, both with white blonde hair in a pageboy cut. The youngest one was kneeling on the blue shag carpet playing with a toy. The other little girl was engulfed in an overpadded maroon recliner, sitting with her legs straight out, her feet never reaching the edge of the seat. She was smiling at us with a giggle that desperately wanted to escape.
I held Max in my arms, bouncing him a bit on my hip to reassure him of my presence in this new environment, trying to stave off the inevitable tears. But he began to kick his feet and wiggle his torso as if he were trying to evade my grasp. As I set him down he rushed over to the little girl in the chair, tottering on his wobbly legs, until he reached her side. He leaned into her, pushing his face against her, and rested there a moment. Then he turned around and walked toward the other little girl on the floor. Max bent over and pressed his cheek against her cheek until their blonde hair and pink faces melted into one.
They didn’t move. Everything stopped. When time began again, Max turned and walked right back to me. I lifted him into my arms and looked at my dad, who was staring at me, wide-eyed. He was trying not to exclude this gracious grandmother as he spoke to me. “Did you see that, Emily? Did you see that?” He turned to the grandmother, trying to explain that this was not Max’s normal behavior, but his words fell short.
Something had washed over Max, a wave of inexplicable, unexpected beauty enabling him to express love beyond our understanding. This child who was incapable of uttering a single word, spoke more clearly that day than any of us.