To Know What Would Have Happened

I will spare you the melodrama and tell you plainly what happened last weekend. It was one of the scenarios parents of autistic kids fear most. For the first time in two years, Jack ran off.

We were having a perfect Saturday. The kids were playing outside in our freshly cut lawn, Sara was making lunch, I was writing fiction, and Josh Garrels was crooning in the background about “Home.” Then, my phone rang. It was my buddy Aaron.

“Dude, I just got Jack! He was running on the other side of 6th street.”

I bolted up and, for an instant, found myself scanning the room for him against all logic, as if my friend had found the wrong kid. Because Jack wasn’t gone. He couldn’t be gone. He was in the backyard…

“Jack got out!” I yelled for my wife to hear.

They were five blocks away. I ran outside to cross the street, but I had to wait for an inexplicable line of traffic. On my honor, there were more cars than I have ever seen on this street. And Jack had just crossed it…

Sara grabbed the van and picked me up two blocks down. We drove the remaining three blocks and found the two of them waiting across another busy street at a fenced in playground next to some basketball courts. Jack was standing atop the slide, shirtless as always, wearing elastic pants that were sagging halfway down his bum. He was clearly proud of himself.

“I didn’t know where else to bring him,” Aaron said. “He was just running down the sidewalk.”

“Shhh. Quiet,” Jack was scripting when he saw me. It was a line from Monster’s University, his latest obsession, but it was also a clue into what he had just done. He had sneaked away on purpose, just like Mike and Sully in the Monster’s library, and he thought it was funny.

We promptly installed an extra noisy alarm on our front door, put a new lock on the back gate, and have been scouring the internet for GPS bracelets—the kind that don’t come off without a fight. We also figured out where he was headed that day: to a house where he had recently seen a DVD case that he wanted (from the first Monsters movie, of course). He was running in the right direction, but he had another nine blocks to go.

Two words dominate a parent’s mind in moments like that: “What if?”

What if he had taken a different street? What if Aaron hadn’t been walking through his front yard to spot him? What if some creeper saw him? What if the drivers on 6th had not seen him? What would have happened?

And then I think of the words CS Lewis spoke through Aslan the lion: “To know what would have happened, child?… No. Nobody is ever told that.”

I have often read that scene and wondered if it was true. Is no one ever told? And is there not some benefit in visiting the specters of alternate history?

This week, my mind is settled. No, there is no benefit. Speculative horrors are an inevitable prison for those prone to worry. Negative fantasies—future or past—leave no room for gratitude or peace. When I do anything more than acknowledge them, I cannot stop and take a deep breath. Even the happiest, sun-shiniest days become tainted with two concerns over which I have no control: things that might have happened, and things that still might. Some day. Any day now.

So how do we recovering pessimists vanquish these ghosts? By focusing on what actually is.

This story of Jack’s escape, it is, truly, a happy story! My son is safe. He went on his own adventure. He crossed two busy streets without incident, and just so happened to walk by the house of my one of my dear friend who already knows and loves him, and who just so happened to be working in his front yard.

I must take note of these positive plot twists, and acknowledge that Providence Himself must have been watching over him that day, coaxing him to safety, whispering, “Shhh, quiet. You know what? I love you, son.”

7 replies
  1. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I wish I could say it gets better. Well, it does, but it takes a long time. I am guardian for my Fragile X Syndrome brother, who is now 59. The last time we had to have the police out looking for him was about ten years ago, after he had been missing for more than six hours. And of course, that time, just like all the other times he took off, he knew exactly where he had been all the time and where he was going and was simply enjoying himself.

    Of course God knew where he was, too…and my mother and I knew that…but our nerves were still frazzled.

  2. Holly
    Holly says:

    Ugh! I feel your fear. We adopted a “runner” who kept us on edge for the first few years. I know all about alarms and such. She hasn’t taken off in a few years now, but boy does this bring back memories. Recently, my friend who has a teenage non-verbal son with autism said she was awakened at 4:30 am by her phone. Her son had gotten out of the house and gone through the woods to their old house where the new occupants called the cops to say some teenage boy was trying to get into their house. The police, not knowing of his autism thought he wasn’t cooperating with their commands (he was pleased with himself, laughing and flapping his hands) so they threw him to the ground and cuffed him. They were able to figure out who he was and they brought him home safely, but it was a harrowing ordeal. Good thing God is watching out!

  3. Grace Audet
    Grace Audet says:

    It’s another time to say, “Thank you, Father, for favors large and small,” without worrying which one a particular favor is. In our perspective, this was huge. In God’s, we don’t know. That is why we lean not on our own understanding, for His ways are not our ways.

  4. Lisa Smith
    Lisa Smith says:

    This post hit me hard. My daughter was missing this evening just as the sun went down. I had just seen her and heard her– and then realized I had not for a few minutes. They were literal minutes but they seemed so so long. Just as I was about to melt down and pick up the phone to make the call to police officers for help looking, I did one more sweep of the house. This time I looked in corners I had not taken the time to look in carefully before in my panic. I found her. She was in her own room. Behind her bed. On a nest of blankets and stuffed toys. Asleep.

    I too am a recovering pessimist. I am often wondering “what if” but have to remind myself that I can only really know “what is” and be content. God is always there for us, never moving, and always ready to help me get through the consequences of the parenting mistakes I make.

  5. S.Good
    S.Good says:

    We had recently moved from my parents’s home on a farm, to a townhouse complex located on a very busy highway. I had simply gone to the restroom for maybe 3 minutes. My not quite 3 year old ASD son managed to unlock the lock on the door handle and out he went. Not realizing this, since he closed the door behind him, I first looked in the house. I then ran outside to find my neighbor who had I had yet to actually meet grabbed him off of the burm of the highway. All I could do was hug my son, my new neighbor and cry. God watched over my boy that day!!! We installed chain locks, against our lease that very day.

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