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"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil,
to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Award, A Strange Pizza and A New Guiding Light

(no, not the soap opera...) To say that life has been insane lately does not even come close to describing it. Our family has been through some really intense situations in the past several months and I have been stressed to the max. BUT something AMAZING happened to me recently and I told, no, promised myself that I would make the time to write about it. I hope you find it is helpful to you in your journey on this puzzling path.
November 9, 2012:
With a deep breath and the deafening sound of my heart pounding I opened the door. In this room full of unfamiliar faces I scanned the horizon for what I was looking for. I found it hard to speak and even swallow, as my nerves seemed to have depleted my mouth of any possible essence of moisture. Yes, I was quite nervous! I was there with a sole purpose: to meet the young man who'd allowed me to feel safe to have hope again. What will he be like? Would he spare just a few minutes of his time to chat? My mind was racing with countless possible scenarios for the evening's events. I was at the Current Trends in Autism Conference right here in Massachusetts and the room was filled with not a single soul I knew (which doesn't happen to me very often in the autism world).

The sound of my cell phone ringing forced me back into reality, and, was I ever glad! Kerry Magro is an adult with autism. I wrote about him in my post titled "Star Struck" back in August. He was being honored that night with the Margaret Bauman Award for Excellence as an Outstanding Advocate for autism!!! {I can't, and won't, deny my admiration for this young man and the fact that I secretly stalk him online-- it's OK, he knows I'm his 'self-proclaimed groupie'} As I answered the call on my phone I recognized the voice I was so familiar with from Kerry's Korner video blog on the Autism Speaks video channel and the My Autism, My Voice website...

Something I could not have begun to fathom back in August was about to happen... and there he was: tall, slender, well poised, handsome and welcoming in his impeccable black suit. Expecting an awkward and formal handshake I walked closer to introduce myself and instead found myself embraced in a big authentic hug! As we started speaking it felt as if we'd been friends forever. The connection was instant and I knew I had just made a friend. WOW! Well, like meeting Kerry wasn't enough, he told me he'd traveled with his mother, Suzanne. I had read a letter that Suzanne had written and I knew that she'd walked in my shoes and had come out victorious on the other side. Industrial-sized wheels were turning in my head. I had to think about the BEST question to ask her. I had this one chance and I had to make it count!

Well, it turns out that none of my fretting, pondering and maniacal anxious anticipation was even necessary. All the eloquence I was struggling to muster was futile because Suzanne and Kerry are just a mom and her son, just like me and Nathan! They are two heavy-weight champions who fought this seemingly endless battle... and won! The more we spoke, the more I came to realize why I have this compelling drive to learn all that I can about Kerry. He represents what I hope and pray that Nathan will become one day. As we sat sipping drinks (which Suzanne treated ME to!) and shared hor d'ouvres the conversation somehow shifted to me and my life. I thought I was there to learn, to ask as much as I could and gather as much information possible like a little squirrel hoarding its feast to digest slowly in the future. Yet I was the one being asked most of the questions. The more I shared about Nathan, the expression on Kerry's face visibly changed. He explained that he felt like I was talking about him as a child! More reason to hope!

The time came for Suzanne and Kerry to each speak at the podium... and I just soaked it all in. What struck me the most was that as each one spoke, they were simply praising the other. This is what I learned that evening: they say that behind every great man is a great woman; well, behind every successful adult with autism is an unrelenting, driven and unwavering mom (and dads, of course). As star struck I was about meeting Kerry, I just can't find the words to describe the inspiration and fire to persevere and fight for my son that was passed on to me upon meeting Suzanne. Expecting pomp and circumstance I found two loving, humble, giving people who'd traveled all this way in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and a Nor'easter (they are from New Jersey)... After the ceremony Suzanne asked if I could stay a little longer and join them for dinner... Umm... YEAH!!!

The surreal whirlwind of thoughts was dizzying as I was trying to wrap my head around what was happening. People kept stopping with outpouring of accolades for Kerry. I was sitting with the president of the school committee, transportation expert and hero mom of this successful, educated young man who rubs elbows with elected officials and celebrities... Yet they were so down to earth that they decided to just order an appetizer because the menu "just had strange pizza, not normal pizza!" One mom stopped to gush over Kerry and Suzanne just said, "he needs to get back home to finish his homework!" (Kerry is finishing his thesis and preparing to graduate with a Master's in Strategic Communications and Leadership from Seton Hall University). We shared our experiences together: missing major family events because our sons can't handle them, not being able to get a babysitter, not being able to go out alone with our husbands, our struggles to get our kids to try new things, our struggles to get our kids to take a bath... the similarities were uncanny. Yet at the end of the meal, Suzanne turns to ME and asks me, "So, what's your plan?"

I am not star struck anymore, not because Suzanne and Kerry are not superstars in my eyes, but because I feel blessed instead. I am unbelievably blessed to have had the opportunity to make two new and amazing friends! An evening that I thought would bring me a tip or two of advice resulted in my witnessing a wonderful friend receive such a well-deserved award, eating "strange pizza" (Kerry made me do it!) and finding a new guiding light at the end of this puzzling journey. I can only sum it up in two words:

"THANK YOU!!!!!"
Meeting Kerry
A toast to Kerry's award! YOU ROCK, MY FRIEND!!!

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