It’s time to leave, so I stand at the bottom of the stairs and call to my son. I hear his music, the fullness in the air that always colors the rooms where he moves, the strains of worship that make our living rich. His feet thump against the carpet in an unseen stretch of hallway, and then he appears, standing just at the edge of the stairs that stretch up between us.
“Adam, I’m going to my meeting, okay?”
“I’m going to my meeting and then I’ll be home.”
His expression tells me that he understands, also the stillness with which he holds his body there, the intentness of his eyes trained on mine. Sometimes it stuns me the way the warm phrases of music make it easier for him to hear me.
“I’ll see you later, okay?”
“I love you.”
“I love you.” He always emphasizes the most important word, the love. He doesn’t know the definition of that word. He can’t quite reach enough words to explain. Still, I’m absolutely certain he knows how that word feels. He knows love by what it means, by the pictures it creates. Adam knows what love looks like.
I smile at him, and he turns away, but he stops before he takes even the third step toward the part of the hallway that I can’t see from where I stand at the base of the stairs. Returning to me, holding me with his blue eyes, he shifts uncomfortably. He searches for words, reaching somewhere in the shadows of his mind. I wait.
Finally, he manages, “May I have some Mommy, please?” His expression has tightened on the edge of frustration. It hurts him not to be able to ask what he most needs to know.
A few more minutes, and I will be late for my meeting, but I stand there held by my son, thinking he’s come so far. He’s come so far.
And then, the whisper of something. What might have happened if Job’s friends had not gotten tangled up on the outside of his words? What if they had really seen the words, if they’d felt them? Some of my soul sisters and I have been studying the book of Job, digging deep, praying over what it means to love someone well in the midst of suffering and grief. From the ruins of a rended heart, Job spat out the only words within his reach, trying to express an unparalleled depth of loss. And the more his friends lost their footing in semantics and weedy definitions and thickets of theology, the more they lost what his words meant, what his words looked like, how his words felt. In small moments like these, loving a son who has lost his words, God shows me that our human dedication to definitions and semantics—and these most informed by our fear and dedication to self-protection—creates hurdles for us in communication. We miss connecting to each other because our poorly chosen, frantically grabbed words build unscaleable walls. I am so often stuck interpreting the gritty surfaces of words instead of listening for how they feel and what they mean, instead of thinking about what the words really look like. Adam has taught me to look beyond, because he lives like someone in a foreign land trying hard to speak a language he doesn’t know.
Because I know my son—his challenges, his tenderness, his fears, his affections—I know that May I have some Mommy, please looks like me returning to him. He really means, “Mom, what time will you be home? I want you to be with me.” In the course of a normal day, I correct these tangled sentences countless times, standing in front of him, holding on to his chin, refusing to release him until he says all the words. I always hope the repetition will imprint the words within easy reach, settling them in a safe spot for the next time. There’s value in learning to say things the right way. But tonight, time runs short, and the most important thing to me is that he feel comfortable in my absence. Sometimes the most urgent thing must be the vulnerable feelings of another soul.
I smile broadly at my son, so thankful. “I’ll be home around nine.”
His faces softens immediately. He smiles at my understanding, glancing at his watch. “Yes.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.” And just like that, he disappears, wrapped up and hidden in the music that floats down to me, and I am left to swallow the tears that swell in my throat. I stand at the base of the stairs, holding my keys in my hands, whispering just this prayer:
Oh Lord, just so, let love and grace give me ears that really hear, that my understanding might ease the burdens of another.