Lately, for some reason, I've been thinking a lot about how random events affect lives. If I hadn't happened to look in the paper the day I found the job that led me to meet my husband, I probably never would have met him. If I hadn't happen to take the bad step out of my parent's travel trailer back years ago, I wouldn't have broken my leg. And, through a combination of factors that are not all certain, but that lined up in a certain way, I have a daughter with autism.
I think most people have a feeling deep inside them, until something happens to change it, that their lives are somehow charmed---that they do things right, and because of that, life is not going to deal them surprises they aren't ready for. I know I felt that way, anyway, until my first pregnancy went badly wrong and I wound up having an emergency C-section and being inches from losing working kidneys, feet from dying. For a while after that, everything felt uncertain. I realized that I had no special dispensation from life's tougher dealings. Anything could happen to me.
After a while, once you realize that you are not untouchable, you stop thinking about it as much. But I don't think you are ever quite the same. You are never quite as surprised when things go awry, for reasons outside your control. Janey having autism was not something I anticipated, but somehow, I don't think it totally blindsided me either. I knew it could happen, because I knew anything could happen.
Why am I writing about this? It's because I think sometimes the people that don't get having a special needs child, and to put it more broadly, the people that don't believe in helping others down on their luck, are people that have never had that experience that makes them realize that they too could be in the shoes of those "others" If you truly feel you have control over what happens to you in life, it makes sense to oppose funds to help those with children with special needs, or those who wind up without a job or a way to feed their children, or those who lose their homes in disasters or their sanity to mental illness.
I think sometimes of the reception Janey gets in different kinds of places. Almost always, the toughest places to take Janey are places where I think the percentage of people with lives untouched by true unexpected hardship is high---fancy stores, upscale streets, hushed cultural events, vaulted academic settings. I am in no way saying there aren't people in these places with lives that are far more troubled than I can ever know, but there are less of them, I think. When I take Janey to the convenience store near our house, I almost always get smiles, kind words, understanding looks. It happens too often to be chance. The people there often look as if life has been tough for them. But they seem to get Janey---to at least get what it's like to have a child or to be a child with special needs. It's a pattern I see a lot. The people that embrace Janey, and embrace our family, have for some reason been through tough, unexpected times. They have been hit by life's randomness.
A long time ago, when Tony and I were first married, we stayed at a hotel where in the room across from us, a child screamed all night. I hope we weren't uncaring as to the plight of the child or the parents, but I don't remember thinking "those poor people! That poor kid!" Tony and I think of that child a lot now. I have heard that screaming now, from my precious Janey, so often. I feel quite sure the child was autistic. I wish sometimes I could go back in time and somehow help those people, instead of feeling annoyed and wishing they weren't there, as I did at the time.
I wish I could believe things happen for a reason. But I don't believe that. I believe life is pretty random. But we can choose how we react to the randomness, and we can ease each other's way, because someday, we ourselves might be the randomly chosen one.