An Uncharted Voyage - a guest post

Classical elements- believed to reflect the simplest essential parts and principles of which anything consists or upon powers of anything are based. (Wikipedia)
I was being led down a stream with my five-year old son last week when it occurred to me that there were a lot more elements involved than those we could feel with our senses. The basic elements which exist to mankind are described as "the sea, earth, sky and wind." (Wikipedia) We are accustomed to experiencing these things outdoors in nature, but a special needs child soaks them in differently than most. The Western civilization describes these elements as "substances" but in Buddhism they are referred to as "sensory."

My husband and I took him down to the stream so that he could sink his toes in the sand, feel the cold of the water rushing past his ankles, and maybe toss a few rocks. Instead, he immediately started dragging me downstream. Some of the rocks were large and in places the water was so deep that we couldn't see where to step and since we weren't wearing swimwear I was not really interested in getting too wet. I kept trying to slow him down but tightened my grip on his hand because there was no way I was letting him loose in a creek. I couldn't control how fast I could get to him if he fell in too deep or got too far ahead. It struck me that we lead our children onto new experiences where we know they'll get to learn and explore but the second they start to pull away is when we tighten our grip. I guess that's one of the elements of being a parent, always telling our kids to slow down, watch their step, keep the end in sight, etc. We are most at ease when we are in a controlled environment where we can predict how things will go, or if they get out of control, we can swiftly fix the situation.

With a special needs child, most of us are on an uncharted voyage, being swept out to sea without a compass. The waves rock our ship back and forth, sometimes in a calming motion when things are going as we expect and occasionally a big storm ensues and we are struggling to dump buckets of water over the side so our ship doesn't sink. One of the beautiful lessons I've learned so far on this voyage is that everyone's ship is sailing, but we are all using different instruments to find our course. Some parents chart their course by finding out everything they can to know and understand about the journey ahead. Other parents set sail and know that they'll encounter obstacles on their journey but take them in stride as part of the trip and don't really plan too far ahead. I think the lessons learned in our family generally occur when we are out in public (or at sea!) and how we try to deal with them.

We went to the beach this summer and a similar thing happened, just like before with the creek. Before we had a chance to unpack the chairs or set up the beach umbrellas our son went running full-speed into the waves, laughing and soaking up the excitement of the ocean. Kids are so willing to jump into new situations with both feet first but here are mom and dad, cautioning, and warning them to be careful and pay attention so that they aren't hurt. As the day progressed he liked to approach girls on the beach and say, "hi," then run away. The girls would respond likewise, laughing, and he'd do it over and over again. It was a fun, silly thing that made us smile. On the other hand, he also went up to several people and kicked sand on them or ran onto their towels. He doesn't understand limits or boundaries and although we've punished him and tried to explain why you don't do that I've been pleasantly surprised at how patient and forgiving other people were with him.

We went to the mall the next day and he played with his SpongeBob on top of some man's head and later threw his stuffed animal on the "up" escalator as we were headed "down" the other. Both people he affected could have been angry and yelled at him, but we apologized profusely and they let it slide. I'm grateful that others are understanding and hope that I'll remember their "tender mercies" with my child and treat others with that same kindness and quick forgiveness, because we never know how they've charted their course for the day and what kind of storms they're personally battling.

So, if the four elements are defined as, "the simplest principle upon which anything is based." I would say that similarly human nature is based on the simple principle of love.


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