I realize it’s June 23rd and the title for this post makes hardly any sense but bear with me. It’s the mysterious beauty of autism – the way Sean’s mind winds and wraps, spinning tangled fishing line into patterns of spun silk.
For the past week he has been wishing me and those around him “Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” Today, on our morning walk he greeted fellow walkers, joggers and even pets a Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For the most part, people just smiled, most likely unable to understand his speech – the words rush out, haltingly stop and then stammer, his eyes scrunched tight and his left hand covering his small ear.
It took me some time to figure out Sean’s obsession with Martin Luther King Jr. For Sean, a connection always exist, even in its strangest scope and far reaching grasp. But Sean connects to Martin Luther King Jr. not for Dr. King’s tireless efforts and work toward racial equality, social justice and peace but merely for the fact that like Sean, Martin Luther King Jr. was born in January – January 15th to be exact (although Sean clings to January 10th as Dr. King’s birthday – this makes their birthdays, in Sean’s mind, a day apart instead of six days – the connection much more significant.)
How he knows this information is from his love and borderline obsession of dates and calendars. He can recall most anyone he meets birthdates – not always 100% but he’ll get the month right. And he loves to go over all the holidays – his second favorite to Dr. King’s birthday is Three King’s Day on January 6th. He has even made up holidays to represent objects he adores like January 7th has become National Accordion Day in our home – a day to roll out the barrels I suppose.
Along with the holiday, Sean likes a song. For Three King’s Day he insists we sing We Three Kings – which can be awkward at best in a 7-11 in the middle of June when all I’m looking for is the newspaper. Pink Martini has a great version of it that we’ll sometimes watch together on You Tube and leaves the singing up to the professionals.
So when he looked up at me, his voice straining to find the words to ask me,
“WHHHAT song is-s-s-is-s for Ma-Ma-RTIN LUTHER K-K-KING DAY!!!”
I had to think quickly on my toes which lately has been an “issue".
“A song?” I asked trying to buy some time.
“YES! A-a-a song.”
And so I sang “I have a dream, I have a dream, I have a dream, dream, dream, dream, dream” – to the tune of When The Saint’s Go Marching In. That’s all I had – not in a very creative space at that particular moment. But I must say, -the song, simplistic in words with a catchy tune was embraced by Sean. It’s locked into the internal I-Pod of his brain that randomly sings Christmas songs, country music and now original music (sorta) by no less than his very own mom.
I love when he sings it. He is quiet and playful and he doesn’t stammer or stutter nearly as much as he does in his regular speech. And when he sings it I can’t help but think he does have a dream. A big, fluffy, cottony dream accompanied by his favorite instruments: the accordion, guitar and violin – some magical symphony that somehow works, singing his dreams – his heart songs.
And I often think how important Dr. King’s message was – not only in the historical sense in the speech he gave in August, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in DC, but today, at this particular moment, when I see a small, beautiful, disabled boy who’s mother wants nothing more than for others to see him as equal. To see him as whole.
Such a gorgeous speech, such an amazing piece of writing. What brings tears to my eyes when I read it, what rings true today for all those who have struggled for equality is summed up beautifully with this line:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
So maybe Sean’s on to something. I like the message. Why just keep it to one cold day in January. Let’s have it handy, even in the middle of June. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to you and yours.
Sam Smiles Project
3 months ago