Christmas never changes; it endures. There is such excitement for kids. I am not sure children always get the religious meaning but they know it is important. Yet with my special needs son, Trot, he somehow gets the deeper meaning. How? That is what this story is about.
My wife Anne and I ask him what he wants for Christmas and he’s kind of lackadaisical about it, especially as Christmas approaches. Anne has made sure that he has had a strong religious upbringing. She has always taken him to Mass — she is a devout Catholic, and has never been deterred from giving him a religious upbringing even though he is a child who has been hamstrung by several special needs syndromes.
Anne has taken Trot to church since he was a baby — with my full support, though I am not as religious as Anne; it is so important to her. She feels genuinely that God is expecting her to do this. And she believes it so strongly — there is not one ounce of doubt. She is a woman of deep religious faith, and she lives it. So does my son.
Anne and Trot don’t just talk about their religious faith. They act upon it; they do things for people. Trot goes to church, we pray every single night — every night — he prays for the needy, people sleeping under the bridge, he crosses himself when an ambulance goes by. There is certainty in his soul and an elemental determination to honor God.
When something enters his mind, it remains there — locked. He embraces his religion with laser-like intensity. Anne has led him to that, and that has led him to God. Though he’s 20 and functions at the level of a seven-year-old, in conversations with me, he often refers to Jesus and what Jesus would want us to do.
Every priest he sees, he runs right up to him and hugs him. I sense that for him, it is as if he is touching God. It is beautiful. There is genuine faith on his part; in his view he is connecting with something beyond himself, exactly what religion empowers us to do. Seeing the deep religiosity within this special needs young man not only is inspiring, it is miraculous; it is witnessing God’s presence enveloping my son who I love so dearly.
So, back to Christmas, especially with it right around the corner. He’s excited, I sense, but, I believe, not in the traditional ways that kids get excited. It is much more of an unspoken thing. There is an awareness, but there also is very little talk about “What am I getting for Christmas?”
I so wish I could go inside his mind and find out what he’s thinking. This is a frustration of being a special needs parent; you never quite get inside your child’s thinking. I want to ask him, “Trot, what is most important to you about Christmas? How does it make you feel?” A conversation like that probably would yield very little, but watching my son interact with others on Christmas Day, especially seeing the love and devotion he shows his younger cousins, answers the question.
For Trot, I think the presents are people. Give him a present, he doesn’t react to the present itself — he reacts with love to the person who gave it to him; he hugs them even before he realizes what it is they gave him. Trot is so pure; he is inspiring. The deeper meaning of Christmas shines within him — love for others, love for Jesus, spiritual renewal, and gratitude. Perhaps this is part of the gift that God has given us with Trot: He heightens my understanding of life’s essences.
It’s fun to give gifts. So all his life Anne and I bought things we thought Trot would like. But he would always gravitate toward the simplest of gifts, like a can of shaving cream his uncle gave him, and that would be his favorite thing. It was hard for me because, I think, I was buying the toys that I would have liked as a child and wanted him to like these toys as well.
Our tree is up, we are starting to scurry about, our social calendar is pretty programmed, we’ll again be with family and friends on Christmas. All of that’s fine. What is joyous for me, though, on this most joyous of days, is my son. He is the present I was given, he is the package I unwrap daily with delight, he is the way that God in His grace has blessed my family and me.