56: No Boundaries

56: No Boundaries

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

No Boundaries

It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks.

~Philip Adams

When I was told that my three-year-old son, Paul, had autism, I felt like he had been given a death sentence. I enrolled him in a preschool where he was provided with an educational assistant. The teacher, Miss Nancy, was a lively redhead who dearly loved her class. She kept an eye out for Paul, and he found a special place in her heart. She knew instinctively that there was no limit to what Paul could do.

He quickly jumped from saying nothing to countless two- and three-word phrases. Though still shy and withdrawn, he became comfortable enough in his preschool to participate along with his classmates. At the end of the year, Nancy held a graduation ceremony for her little friends, complete with little white caps. As I watched Paul trying to fall in line with the rest of his class, copying their actions when he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, my heart ached. Things that came so easily for the others still required major effort on his part. He did, however, graduate from preschool.

After the ceremony, I hugged Nancy tightly. “Thanks so much for everything,” I whispered through tears.

She grabbed me by both arms and said firmly, “He’s going to be just fine.”

I stared back at her intense brown eyes as my own widened. No one had ever told me that before. For almost two years, I had felt like I was drowning in a sea of despair, fighting for every breath, fighting to find my child. Nancy had observed Paul’s progress and knew how far he had come in such a short time. She had seen enough four-year-olds to know what she was talking about, and I trusted her completely. It felt like she had thrown me a life preserver that I never thought I’d see.

The following summer, Daphne, my youngest sister, asked if Paul could be the ring bearer at her wedding. I wondered if it would be too much for him, but Daphne and he were close, and I didn’t want to disappoint her. So I sat down with him and wrote out his instructions.

1. Walk down the carpet toward Andrew (Daphne’s fiancé)

2. Stay beside the flower girl while you walk

3. Give Andrew the ring

4. Walk back to the front row to sit with Mommy

Paul read over the words a few times. When I practiced with him, I held up four fingers, and he and I would say together his four instructions, one at a time. I showed him a wedding video and focused on the ring bearer’s performance. Paul had an excellent memory, but could he put it into action?

The night of the rehearsal finally came. Paul was a little hesitant and somewhat uncomfortable standing beside Anna, who was Andrew’s niece and a stranger to Paul. When they walked down the aisle, Anna walked slowly. Paul walked quickly, as if in a hurry to get it over with. As a result, he reached the front alone. I laughed nervously, surrounded by relatives and some of Daphne’s friends, who weren’t familiar with Paul’s condition.

“That was very good, Paul, but we’re not racing, honey,” I said, stooping down to look him in the eye as I always did when I wanted to make sure he was listening. “Take your time, okay? Stay beside Anna next time.”

Daphne’s wedding day was picture-perfect. The sky was bright blue, there was a slight summer breeze, and Paul didn’t protest about wearing a vest and tie. Still, I hesitated before leaving him with Daphne and Dad in the church vestibule.

“He’ll be great,” Daphne said, as I kissed her on the cheek, and she felt my tears.

I sat on the end of the front pew, staring back down the aisle past more than two hundred faces. I was so happy for Daphne, but so scared for Paul.

The last bridesmaid had come to the front, and Anna began her walk. Daphne gently nudged Paul to join little Anna, and I started to cry. I expected too much, I told myself. He can’t do this. How could we put this pressure on him?

Paul glanced behind him at Daphne’s glowing face. Then he solemnly matched Anna stride for stride, not too fast, not too slow. Perfect. The sun shone through the stained-glass windows onto his handsome face. He walked, straight and tall, up to Andrew, offered him the pillow from which Andrew removed Daphne’s wedding ring, and then solemnly walked back to sit with me. By then, I could hardly see through my tears of joy for Paul’s accomplishment.

Whenever Paul has a setback, I can still see Nancy’s piercing eyes and hear her encouraging words. Besides knowing his multiplication tables, acing every spelling test and possessing a superior IQ, he has the purest, biggest heart I’ve ever had the pleasure to come in contact with. He really does have unlimited potential. He’s just fine.

~Jayne Thurber-Smith

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