If my Down syndrome son were on a normal timetable, he would have started college this week. As we dropped off our older son to start this semester, I had to wonder what it might have been like if we were dropping them off together. What would it be like to be returning home as empty nesters instead of having him with us? I don’t have answers to those things, but I did think back and realized that I now know the answers to some things I used to wonder a lot about concerning our future.
I looked across a dining table at the mother of my older son’s new roommate. I remember when she learned she was expecting him and how she wept and worried because it was just a few months since she’d had her previous child. She and her husband were only recently out of school and she wondered at the complexity and difficulty of introducing this third child to the mix. How wonderful it would have been if someone could have told that girl how much fun this boy would bring to her life? If she could have known what an absolute joy he would be to her, it would have lifted some of that burden.
It brought peace to me to see the results of her years of work — the realization of hopes and dreams which, at one time, were too distant even to be considered. It reminded me of a story that the apostle Jeffrey R. Holland shared in 1999 about life turning out okay after discouraging times…
Times like when I thought my left arm would become completely useless to me from wrist and hand stingers caused by trying to control the legs of an uncooperative 10-year-old for diaper changes. Times driving kitty corner across town in a rush to take my Down syndrome son to school with him protesting loudly and usually taking off his clothes along the way. I can still hear my older son’s desperate, “Hurry, Mom! Make him go!” when I’d have redress his younger brother in the parking lot. Times like the daily wrenching and twisting as I walked my son up to the classroom door. Then, once I touched that knob, he would straighten up and walk in as calm as you could ever imagine! The teachers would have that look on their faces that said, “Why can’t you ever get here on time?” I would just smile and retreat again quietly, then dash back through town the other direction to try to get my older son to his school on time.
I can picture myself making that drive day after day, saying, “Tell your teacher it’s my fault you’re late, son,” and feeling so worn out at only 8:15 in the morning. I had hope then that one day things would get better, but I had no way of knowing if they would.
Turns out that there are hills and valleys in life. I am glad that this difficult chapter in our lives did come to an end. I’m glad that my older son holds no hard feelings and is now as dear and tender with his brother as anyone could ever hope for.
All of us have experiences when it seems we might not have the strength to keep going. Looking back now, what would we say to our “selves of the past” if we could? I think I’d say to that earlier me (or that my friend might say to earlier her) the same thing Elder Holland says in his story. So when I have a rough day now, I try to think of the future me and imagine her encouraging me the same way. His words give me strength:
“Thirty years ago last month, a little family set out to cross the United States to attend graduate school—no money, an old car, every earthly possession they owned packed into less than half the space of the smallest U-Haul trailer available. Bidding their apprehensive parents farewell, they drove exactly 34 miles up the highway, at which point their beleaguered car erupted.
Pulling off the freeway. . . the young father surveyed the steam . . . then left his trusting wife and two innocent children–the youngest just three months old–to wait in the car while he walked the three miles or so [to where] water was secured . . . and a very kind citizen offered a drive back to the stranded family. The car was attended to and slowly–very slowly–driven back . . . for inspection . . .
After more than two hours of checking and rechecking, no immediate problem could be detected, so once again the journey was begun. In exactly the same amount of elapsed time at exactly the same location on that highway with exactly the same pyrotechnics from under the hood, the car exploded again. . .
Now feeling more foolish than angry, the chagrined young father once more left his trusting loved ones and started the long walk for help . . . This time the man providing the water said, “Either you or that fellow who looks just like you ought to get a new radiator for that car.” For the second time a kind neighbor offered a lift back to the same automobile and its anxious little occupants. . .
“How far have you come?” he said. “Thirty-four miles,” I answered. “How much farther do you have to go?” “Twenty-six hundred miles,” I said. . .
Just two weeks ago this weekend, I drove by that exact spot . . . That same beautiful and loyal wife, my dearest friend and greatest supporter for all these years, was curled up asleep in the seat beside me. The two children in the story, and the little brother who later joined them, have long since grown up . . . The automobile we were driving this time was modest but very pleasant and very safe. In fact, except for me and my lovely Pat . . . nothing of that moment two weeks ago was even remotely like the distressing circumstances of three decades earlier.
Yet in my mind’s eye, for just an instant, I thought perhaps I saw on that side road an old car with a devoted young wife and two little children making the best of a bad situation there. Just ahead of them I imagined that I saw a young fellow walking . . . with plenty of distance still ahead of him. His shoulders seemed to be slumping a little, the weight of a young father’s fear evident in his pace. In the scriptural phrase his hands did seem to “hang down.”. . . In that imaginary instant, I couldn’t help calling out to him: “Don’t give up, boy. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead–a lot of it–30 years of it now, and still counting. You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” October 1999).
I literally say to myself sometimes, “Don’t give up, Jane. Don’t you quit.” When things look dark, I remind myself that these words could have helped me get through times past, so I let them push me through today, trusting that I will survive. I believe I will find the same results in the unknown future as have truly already come from my anxious and blundering past: “There is happiness ahead—a lot of it . . .”
This post was originally published in September 2014. Minor changes have been made.