A Reflection of Aching Joy (A Poem for Jack)

Update: The Facebook version of this video went viral, hitting 1 million views in 4 days, and going on to get over a million more. On the original thread, scores of parents began posting photos of their own autistic children; their “beloveds.” It was a beautiful and inspiring thing. You can visit that thread and add to it here.


This is an original poem and video that I made with my buddy Robert. He’s an extremely talented photographer and composer, and he just got a drone, which we put to good use on the magnificent Seal Rock beach in Oregon. I hope it gives you a better glimpse not only into my inner world, but into the life and personality of Jack. I’ll paste in the text below.

A Reflection of Aching Joy

What do the waves mean, son of mine?
These swells of salty outrage
Over which name tag you ought to pin to your chest:
Are you autistic? Or do you have autism?
Or are you merely affected by this condition,
This blessing or this blight?
With ever shifting definitions?
Who’s right?
I don’t know, and I’m weary of caring.

What do the waves mean, son of mine?
I watch you play tag
With those frigid foam daydreams
As they grow and progress to your toes,
And for an instant, I see them—
Sandcastle Visions
of a typical future.
The kind with graduations
and nuptuals and…
simple conversation about summertime.
But the wave retreats… Recedes… Regresses…
And again your voice is lost in recesses
Of silent staring at meaningless crashes
Of water upon on the sand.

What do the waves mean, son of mine?
I watch you flap your hands
In sines and in cosines,
Over shapes and colors sending shocks of sheer delight.
We’ve tried to flap them with you,
But the magic eludes us,
Our experience excludes us,
From the poems of your palms
And the fables of your fingertips.

What do the waves mean, son of mine?
The brain doctor shrugs at the ripples in your scans.
What mysteries lie beneath
The tranquil surface of your sea?
Are they epileptic jolts
That still your tongue
From singing those melodies you can now only hum?

Sometimes I flail in these oceans uncharted,
And sometimes I swallow the sea
But oh, my dear boy,
How you dog paddle!
Can you teach me how to wade these waters
with winsome eyes
And a laughing chin?
Can you show me how to swim
Shirtless and shameless
In my own pasty skin?
Can I, too, blink away
the incessent splashes
And errant sprays
That haggle over your name?

Because you are not a disorder, my son,
Not a blue puzzle piece
On a clinical spectrum.
But neither are you normal,
You’re a piece of God’s own daydreams
A reflection of aching joy.
No, you’re not normal.
You are… beloved.

For Anna and Simeon (An Advent Poem)

(This poem was formerly called “When the Soul Felt its Worth,” since it carries threads of “O Holy Night,” but I changed it because it works better as an Advent piece. I wrote and performed it a few years back for our church’s Christmas program. It works better as a spoken word piece, but I thought I’d share it here anyway.)

I

Since the days of old
When the prophets told
Of a King that would hold
The government on his shoulders,
And milk and honey in His hands,

The chosen race
Adorned in white lace
For centuries past her wedding day waits
At the alter for her faceless groom
A Messiah her grandparents swore would soon
Topple the Empire and finally deliver
The white picket fences from father Abraham.

Long lay the empire,
In a Pax that required
Legions, phalanxes and arrows afire,
Long lay the world
With battle flags unfurled
The everlasting hills groan
With agonies of war and famine and hope deferred.

Creation remembers
A fire, now embers,
Where family members
Were supposed to gather round
Feasting on fresh fruit and marshmallows
Plucked from the Tree of life,

And best of all,
He would be with them at their garden party.

But those far off pictures
Are eclipsed by real fixtures
Of sadness and tricksters
Shuffling thrones like shells
Over one elusive ball called deliverance.

So with limp expectations,
And weak incantations,
The world falls asleep again, and dreams about nothing…
…but morning.

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II

Sin and error,
Grief and terror,
Grip the image bearers
Of long forgotten Hope,
And the angels wince at this new normal.

They surround His throne
Begging that He alone
Would call his faithful home
Or else get down there Himself
And do something.

But His ears are attuned
To the voices of two
Aged prophets who
Still sees visions of a coming King:

Anna and Simeon stubbornly sing.

From their wrinkled lips
Over incense whisps,
Their whispered melodies insist
That the violent plots of jilted progeny
That prodigals plotting their recompense
That the unbroken strings of brokenness would all,
themselves,
At last,
Be broken.
That HE would finally come to take His throne.

Anna she weeps,
Simeon keeps
The incense burning,
If for just another day.
Unless their strength finally falters,
And their heartbeats give way.

Not today.
Not till we’ve seen him.
Dear God, not today.

shepherds and angels

III

When Rachel’s weeping fills the skies
Her innocents, slaughtered like flies
By petty kings with jealous knives,
Midnight threatens to paint the hills
in permanent despair.

And it would have, too.
But for a star-shaped window
In the firmament,
And the Fathers light pouring through.

There, from that perch
He whispers words
The most anticipated ever heard
“The fullness of time has come.”

And at that,
Giddy galaxies dance and run
To watch Bethlehems skies
Where Heaven’s minstrels arise
With joyous operas improvised,

“He is here!
He is here!
Glory and Peace!
He is here!”

Herdsmen and Cherabim
Elbow the Seraphim
Just to catch a glimpse of Him
The Emperor of the Cosmos,
The King of a Billion Suns,
Under cover —
Sleeping on a horse’s breakfast.

And Men and angels
Wings-in-arms
Raise their glasses
To the Newborn Caesar.

But an honor still higher
Meets the ones who conspired
Over wax-fueled fires
In sleepless prayerful nights:
Anna and Simeon
Faithful and frail,
Feeble and mostly blind,
At last, receive Destiny Himself in their hands,
To be dedicated,
consecrated
and celebrated.

Long lay the world
In sin and error pining,
Till he appeared
In their arms,
In swaddling clothes
With a violent clash of hymns and prose
And the soul of man finally knows
It’s incomprehensible worth.

Because He came near
And His rule still advances
Taming cruel hearts with redemptive romances
Leading us back,
Calling us home
To the campfires of Eden.


Photo Credits:

Creative Commons license, Spiritual Boundary by vincos

Shepherds image, free use from FreeBibleImages.com

Feature image of Simeon and Anna: Artist Unknown