This will appear on Beliefnet Friday night, as part of a package dealing with 
autism. the version on my website includes a photo of Adam. 
the website version also includes a couple of paragraphs that Bnet cut 
because the piece was getting too long, and they weren't strictly necessary. 
But I 
was extremely fond of the passage, so I include it here. It's a common saying 
that writers can be undermined by their fondness for tasty bits of their own 
writing, bec that fondness can blind them to the fact that it doesn't 
to the overall piece. An editor told me years ago, "you have to murder your 
darlings." I expect my Beliefnet editor is right about this...but the darling 
is nevertheless ensconced in its original place, below and on my website 
version of the piece. I wonder if you can pick it out?
I won't be able to read email for awhile because we are off in a few hours to 
drive to Atlanta, where our newest grandbaby will be baptized on Sunday. I 
guess Emmeline is technically not our newest grandbaby, she's just the newest 
one we're able to see. Around the beginning of December we expect to start 
seeing grandbaby # 9, Steve and Jocelyn's first child. They made the 
at our Pascha feast, to the good cheer of all. 
Last summer we had a houseful at the beach, with our children and their 
spouses and the seven (soon to be nine) little grandchildren. The cousins don’t 
each other much, so they splashed and ran and shouted, the wind tearing at 
their voices. But Adam, then four, stayed by himself. He moved along the edges 
of the dunes, circling the family like a silent satellite. Last year, Adam 
received a diagnosis of autism.
Adam is a beautiful child with a cream-and-rose complexion and clear blue 
eyes. He wasn’t quite two when, at a backyard party, he walked over to the cars 
parked in the yard and began reading aloud the license plate letters and 
numbers. No one had taught him this. He developed a fascination with the 
words and numbers, maps and globes, and any repeating pattern (he loves M. C. 
Escher images). When he was evaluated at three-and-a-half his cognitive level 
was that of a seven-year-old. Ever since his toddler days Adam has surprised us 
by coming out with things no one could recall teaching him, and it was sort 
of unnerving. I kept thinking we were going to find a bill from the University 
of Phoenix in his crib.  
But talking—that’s different. When Adam began trying to talk, the strain was 
evident in his face and tender eyes. In photos from his first birthday, he 
looks worried and lost. Sometimes words would come out too loud, sometimes too 
soft, usually flat and expressionless, always halting and reluctant. Adam looks 
like someone who doesn’t speak English and is laboring to translate 
word-by-word in his head. I told his mom, “When God made him, he must have put 
in the 
Japanese module by mistake.”  
So there’s a ring of silence around beautiful Adam. He doesn’t interact 
much. If you ask him a question, he’s likely to repeat it, or just ignore it. 
isn’t interested in other children, and doesn’t have friends outside the 
family. He is remote, a space station overcharged with data, orbiting silently, 
The silence is what hurts. Parents don’t only love their children, they also 
crave to know their children. I’ve heard moms in the delivery room say to 
their newborns, “Open your eyes so I can see you!”—though they can see every 
of the baby but his eyeballs. A baby is a present you can’t unwrap all at 
once. It takes years of reading his eyes, learning what makes him laugh, 
him run and tumble with friends, hearing his bedside prayers. But with an 
autistic child much of this can be impossible.  
When you think about it, language is a pretty tricky operation. It’s the 
thing that allows us to communicate, but also the thing that makes 
frustrating. The speaker must hike down to his scrambled storehouse of words 
and pick out ones that fit, more or less; then he hauls them back up and tips 
the bucket into the empty air between him and the hearer. The hearer receives 
the words sequentially, as each pebble hits the ground. He must gather them up 
and cart them back down to his own dictionary-storehouse; there they will 
jostle meanings and associations unanticipated by the speaker.  
What a cumbersome muddle all of this is, and so complex that it’s amazing 
anybody ever gets it right. You can understand why an autist, finding this even 
more difficult than we do, might opt simply to withdraw.  
Adam announces, “I am going to go off of the world.” He is going to be an 
astronaut, and go away in a space ship. This is his latest interest. “You”—here 
he pokes a forefinger into your arm—“you will stay here.” 
Adam plans to go far away from this confusing, difficult place. Sometimes 
even non-autists can find that idea appealing. There are so many ways for us to 
misunderstand and hurt each other, and even when things are at their best a 
sense of separateness shadows our joy. We look at others from the outside, 
guesses about they’re thinking. We reach out, and the very skin that allows 
us to touch is the barrier that keeps us apart. The most that two people can be 
is two planets in a common orbit, and it’s at the happiest of times that we 
recognize this limitation. Maybe that’s why people cry at weddings.  
The problem that autists have with other people is just an extreme form of 
the alienation that troubles us all. Autists have a bad case of the Human 
Parents of autists may feel: if even the best human relationships are sadly 
limited, what hope is there for my child? A tragedy some years ago gave me 
unexpected light on another way—the only effective way—to be deeply connected 
with those we love.  
When my father died in a car accident, I was 29. Our relationship still had 
lots of knots and tensions from my teen years—a different kind of communication 
difficulty than parents of autistic children have, but still a sad example of 
the pain that all humans who try to love each other know. But as I listened 
to the prayers and Scriptures at his funeral, it hit me that, from his 
perspective, all the confusion was over. He was standing in the searching light 
God, where all things are made clear and all truth is known. That meant that, 
from his perspective, our relationship was for the first time perfect and 
in a way it could never have been on earth.  
Though I don’t yet have that perspective, I can still grasp its truth. The 
only place I can ever meet my father again is in the presence of God, who 
understands us both, perfectly—much better than we can understand ourselves. 
even though he sees right through us, his response is endless love.  
When we’re bewildered, lonely or hurt, when the futility of efforts to 
connect is too painfully obvious, we can relinquish our confusion to the Lord. 
knows every heart from the inside, and “in him all things hold together” 
(Colossians 1:17). His love is the life streaming through all Creation. So even 
this life we are connected with those we love through God, something we can 
barely grasp now, but which will one day flood our awareness.  
Parents are pained by their inability to reach an autistic child; he’s only a 
few feet away, at the other end of the sofa, but might as well be circling 
the dark reaches of space. But he is known by God. He is transparent to the 
light of God, who shines through us all, who understands us and our children, 
everyone we know, and everyone we don’t. Only in him will we one day love each 
other the way we want to, the way he already does. St. Paul writes, “Then I 
shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (I Corinthians 
13:12). We have been fully understood, even the least explicable among us, and 
one day we will rest in tranquil full communion.  
Adam says, “I am going to go off the world. You will stay here. But I will 
come back to you. I will come back soon.” 
Frederica Mathewes-Green

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