In the grassy courtyard of our old synagogue, stands a large doorway gate. Its eye-shaped intertwining metal wiring gave view to a beautifully soft cloudy blue sky that Sunday morning. In a glimpse that seemed to last quite a while, I had stolen a moment to capture this gate in a photo. Meanwhile, Jake was swinging up into his own clouds, just a few feet away from me. He joyfully swung up in the air, clapping his feet together rhythmically in delight; as if his feet were cymbals crashing in percussive accents into the air. It is what I imagine the ultimate sense of childhood freedom to be - conducting our very own symphony.
It is intriguing that a predictable repetitive activity would invoke such a sense of freedom. We often think of freedom as something that breaks through the mundane, the repetitive and the predictable. We imagine freedom as a destination and maybe not so much an activity. But maybe, freedom is a sense of comfort in being happily suspended in the air. When we look down, we have the safety of knowing that we are not far from the ground and when we look up, there is the sense of anticipation of how high in the air we are going to get. I remember how thrilling it was to swing up in the air as a child.
When did we lose that sense of fun over simple childhood activities? When did that sense of freedom and wonderment go? I still think that it is really only the simple small things, and appreciating brief moments in time as we live in the present, that will ever give us that same sense of freedom. It may even restore that childish naivete that leads children to ask about what is so intriguing to them.
Looking through the locked gate, I realized that the appeal of taking time to appreciate where I stood was about the contrast of hard and soft – the gate versus the clouds. Similarly, the hard-wired structure in our lives provides safety and security for us all, just like that locked gate provides security to whoever stands within the confines of those grounds which the gate protects. It does so all the more for a child living with autism. This child craves and needs this daily security and a predictable schedule. He needs the security of a structure with a repetitive rhythm so that he knows what to expect. This helps to alleviate any anxiety about what is coming up and what he can look forward to. That repetitive rhythm, just like the rhythmic swinging in the air, creates a comfort and pacing for him; It is his key to unlocking that gate. It is the key to alleviate anxiety about the unknown. We all want to loudly crash the cymbals to our own symphony. Wouldn’t it be something if each one of us could hold such a key in our very hands?
Was the sky so captivating to me that morning only because I was looking at it from a locked gate, or would it have been as beautiful and mystical to me without the gate that was in the way of my view? I wondered. Is it only those unattainable, those unreachable things that still intrigue us, as if we were still that inquisitive child in the playground? Do we ever really lose the mystique of magical childish thoughts like what it would feel like to touch the sky, or to touch a cloud?
Oh I have much to learn from this child that is always true to himself. He is so determined, curious, and unapologetic and genuinely himself. These are things that most people aspire their entire lives to achieve. We want to feel that true sense of self and acceptance of who we truly are and to be happy and at peace in that moment in time. This beautiful child is not burdened by silly thoughts of what others may think of him or how his interests may appear to others. No, such wasteful thoughts have no place in his young mind. He knows exactly what he wants, he is strong minded, smart and willful. Most importantly, he holds the key that unlocks that gate, and is therefore free to be truly himself.
It was only a brief moment in time, there in the courtyard. But in that moment of looking through the eyes of that gate, I saw there a lifetime of meaning and symbolism. The key to unlocking that gate as a collective society is acceptance. We all want the same thing - to be loved and appreciated. We want to feel accepted exactly as who we are. Each one of us is a locked gate, and the key to unlocking it and reaching freedom, is acceptance of each individual in all of our true colors.