Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Doubting Thomas

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched . . . but are felt in the heart.

Helen Keller

“Thomas Tucker rarely stands in front of a crowd,” the reporter wrote. This is true. Thomas gets excited around large crowds. When he is overstimulated, he needs an outlet to help calm himself down, like spinning.

My eight-year-old son is autistic. A very polite and loving boy, Thomas is considered “high functioning,” which means that he can interact with others. His speech is significantly below age level, and he goes to speech therapy four times a week, but my husband and I try not to treat Thomas like he is different, and we expect him to do and learn things just like any other child. Because of his autism, he can become very focused on a specific subject, and it isn’t always easy to get his attention.

We live in a small community in Kentucky, near Fort Campbell. Thomas is very well known here. It seems we cannot go anywhere in town without someone saying “hi” to him. Usually, I have to remind him to say, “hi,” back; otherwise, he would just walk right by. He has no idea how popular he is.

My husband had been deployed with the 86th Combat Support Hospital a month earlier for Operation Iraqi Freedom, when the Cadiz Renaissance Society planned a rally to support the troops. They called to see if Thomas would say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I was concerned about whether or not he would be able to maintain his focus in front of a large crowd. But he did know the pledge by heart. And he had been in school for five years. I knew I was probably more frightened than my son, so I told the society that Thomas would be glad to do it.

Decisions like these are usually made in tandem with my husband, but we hadn’t heard from him since his deployment, and I had no idea when we would get to speak to each other. Especially since the rally was to support his father and the rest of the troops, I wanted my son to be able to participate. But what I really wanted, I realized, was for Thomas to tell me what he wanted. Was he interested in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the rally? And, could he do it?

Thomas doesn’t understand war or why Poppa is gone. The only thing he seems to understand is that Poppa is at work, although he isn’t sure why we took him to work one day but can’t go and pick him up. Showing my feelings around Thomas is difficult because of his limited comprehension, so my sobbing and sadness are reserved for the times when he is at school or in bed. And determining how Thomas feels is near to impossible. So without input from my son or my husband, I agreed that Thomas would recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

We arrived at the rally a little before 2:00 P.M. It was supposed to be held at the high-school football field, but the April rains forced us inside the local Baptist church, a building that has large and very beautiful stained-glass windows. When we walked in, all Thomas could see was the windows. He began talking about The Hunchback of Notre Dame and was so fixated on the windows that he couldn’t answer any of the reporter’s questions.

I started to worry. Usually, when Thomas is focused on something, it’s very hard to redirect him. Thomas has not been able to participate in the school productions because he wants to make up his own show when he gets to the microphone. Would that happen today?

Our seats were in the front pew of the church, right in front of the stage. There were numerous speakers and presentations, and Thomas enjoyed the music. He seemed to be focusing less on the windows and more on the rally, but I was definitely getting nervous about him being onstage.

The local VFW brought in the colors to post. Then the unthinkable happened. The VFW did not know that Thomas was supposed to say the pledge, and it is usually routine for them to recite it while posting the colors. We followed suit and recited the pledge along with them. When it was over, I was crushed: Thomas thought we were done and it was time to go home. We sat through the rest of the rally, but I’m sure my disappointment was visible to others around me. As the rally concluded, they sent the VFW back in to retire the colors. To our surprise, they asked if Thomas could come up and say the pledge as they took the colors out. This was it!

Thomas and I walked up to the stage. He stepped up to the microphone and spoke confidently and clearly as he recited the Pledge of Allegiance. His words were so precise that I had to take another look to make sure it was really him at the microphone. When he was done, he stepped back and remained still and quiet. I was astounded, and I could feel my eyes beginning to water. My heart swelled with such pride, and I wished my husband had been able to witness this.

My son stood still and quiet as an audience of two hundred people applauded.

I will never doubt Thomas again.

Leah Tucker

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