Almost weekly my oldest son, L, who is on the Autism Spectrum has a new career that he wants to be when he grows up. His career dreams used to last much longer.
We had an entire year of him wanting to be an engineer, then he dreamed of being a scientist. His longest running dream career yet has been an astronaut, but it was recently was overthrown by being a soldier.
It's hard to explain his desire to be a soldier. We aren’t a military family, and we don’t know anyone currently in the military. He doesn’t even have a cool uncle in uniform that he looks up to, who comes to family functions. But when asked the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question, the first thing out of his mouth is—soldier.
As school was starting, he met a soldier in person, during the onslaught of extracurricular activities that comes with a new school year. Here's what happened:
I am at the Greenbelt Community Center signing up both of my children for classes when a man in army fatigues enters the office. One of the employees offers to help me at another desk so that both of us can be serviced at the same time. While I stand a few feet away, the boys stay by the door. L’s gaze immediately hooks on this man.
As I look over my shoulder, to keep an eye on my children, I notice the man has a large scar running down the side of his head. L approaches him with his arm stiffly erected in front of him, his hand out to shake the soldier’s hand. The man takes my son’s hands in his and shakes it ever so gently.
I notice that I’m holding my breath for fear that L is going to ask an obtrusive question. Children on the Autism Spectrum don’t have filters and L will speak exactly what is on his mind. Often it’s not the most polite thing to say, but instead it is brutally honest. I'm, of course, worried that L is going to ask him about his scar or worse.
L looks the man in the eye and with a furrowed brow says, “Thank you for the work you did in the war.”
I inhale, biting down on my lip, hoping that holds back the tears that are instantly beginning to well up in my eyes.
The man is obviously surprised by this nine-year-old's respect and thanks him. L says, “Can I ask you something?”
The soldier takes longer than the average person his age to get down on one knee, looking my son in the eye he says, “Sure thing.”
“Did you lose any friends in the war?”
The soldier takes a moment before answering and then slowly shakes his head yes. L places his small hand on the man’s shoulder and says, “I can be your friend now.”
The tears are now streaming down my face; there is no holding them back at this point.
“I’d like that little guy," he says and smiles at my son. I notice he wipes tears away himself as he gets up to his feet again. The soldier turns in my direction before leaving, and I smile at him. It’s hard not to notice the gigantic scar on his face, as well as that scar tissue on his eyelid has left one eye barely able to open.
“You’ve got a good one there,” he says to me pointing in L’s direction. I nod knowing full well the amazing children that God placed in my care. L stands there beaming a smile from ear to ear as if he’s just had a personal conversation with his hero.
And I think he just did.