Tight Little Lessons, Meant for Later

Adam: a simple name, paired with a simple boy. The classic story: fifth grade girl meets preschool boy, and BOOM!—someone’s life changes. Sorry to say, but no, the story does not exactly play out with such… elegance. Life is dirty, and as I soon found, so are preschoolers. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Spivey, thought that instead of having “Book Buddies,” our class would enjoy working with “Learning Buddies”— “a more noble pursuit” as she put it. Paired for a year and destined to spend an hour with a toddler each week —what could be easier? Adam has autism. At the tender age of three, he could not communicate with the world as he craved, refused the touch of others, and was blinded by bright lights. Warily, I began my year as a child’s “buddy.”

Each week during the designated “Learning Buddy” time, I found myself chasing Adam around the gym on floor scooters or climbing on the mountain of mats together, throwing foam squares into each other’s faces. As the weeks flew by, a bond began to form. Though prone to screaming, flailing, and biting, I have never known a sweeter child. Adam began to take over my life; I found spending time with him irresistible. Friday mornings spent with Adam soon began to spill over into my free time. I found myself climbing over the baby-sized playground, baking woodchip pies, and searching for lost treasures. A boy originally unable to cope with the world found himself opening up to me.

My time with Adam echoed throughout my time in Lourdes, France as a volunteer in the hospitalite working with maladies. Tom, a man in his mid-thirties with Down-Syndrome, became my friend. From holding Tom’s hand as we crossed a busy intersection to ensuring the correct sprinkles topped his gelato, I was by his side morning to night. Of the hospital pilgrims, Tom was the class clown: a self-proclaimed ladies’ man, Tom went from group to group offering jokes, wit, and tea. His boyish grin glowed, radiating confidence from every pore. When I spent time with Tom, I remembered Adam.

“Jamie, please go to room twelve,” the intercom rang out. Summoned to Adam’s room, I quickly walked down the hallway. The teacher looked at me with desperation. “Adam’s in the gym screaming. Go, try, please… He needs you now.” I ran to the gym and found Adam curled on the floor. He looked up, saw me, and stopped crying. Arms reaching, he tried calling out my name. “Jam… Jam… Jam…” I picked him up and nestled him against my collarbone, soothing him while his tears soaked my shirt and hair. The sound of his hiccups on my chest, his warmth and surrender into my arms, brought me to tears. I had never known how it felt to be needed, what it meant to have someone depend on me with complete trust.

My relationships with Tom and Adam cannot compare, but both experiences helped me realize that there are no conclusions in life. There are complications, and situations are imperfectly dirty. One cannot deduce tight little lessons to tuck away and keep for later. The important thing is to live in the moment and enjoy the people who surround me. I must be prepared to be unprepared, and I look forward to the lack of elegance in my life.

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