Aug 15, 2013 0 Share

The Ripple Effect


Close-up of author's mother.
Photo by Caroline McGraw

Confession time: I love helping people with de-cluttering projects. In fact, I'm usually the initiator, the one who asks my parents, “What closet is causing you stress this time?” During my most recent visit, Mom asks that we de-clutter the kitchen hutch, a repository for papers and paraphernalia. I pick up a stack of cookbooks, and we dive in. We're moving through the shelves at a brisk pace until we come to a box stuffed with business cards. Out go the ancient dental appointment reminders, the outdated salon listings, an old pair of purple reading glasses a long-ago house guest left behind. And then we come to a cream-colored card. 

“Oh, the Eden Institute in Princeton … I can't throw this out,” Mom says.

“Okay … why not?” I ask.

“That's where we went for Willie's diagnosis … it's the place with the waiting room you remember, the jungle gyms and the high ceilings you wrote about as your first memory. That's where we learned that Willie had autism. Or, well, what was then PDD-NOS.” 

“Ohhh,” I say. I'm holding the card differently now. Until this moment, I've never known the name of the place that comprised my first memory. The Eden Institute: the place where receiving a mouthful of knowledge changed everything. It's a fitting name. And avid de-clutterer though I am, I understand why Mom wants to keep this card. It's a piece of our family's history, a tiny placeholder for a huge turning point in our life together. “I get it. Okay, this one stays.” 

Near the bottom of the stack, we come upon another card I don't recognize. I read out the unfamiliar names, and ask, “Who are they?” 

“Oh wow,” Mom says, “I didn't know I still had this! This is the card from the people who prayed for Willie in the Dallas airport. You were there, remember?” 

“Wait, what? I don't think I know this story,” I say. 

“We were flying home to New Jersey from Arizona after visiting your grandparents, and it was just the three of us, because your Dad had to go back earlier for work,” she starts out. “And we had a long layover, so I was just trying to keep you both entertained until our next flight. You were both quite young, so it couldn't have been that long after Willie's diagnosis.” 

She pauses, reflecting. “I'm not sure if that was the same trip when Willie climbed onto the luggage carousel and rode it around at the baggage claim and the security guards came over to us, but regardless … it was stressful.” 

“And then what happened?” I prompt, even though I'm actually starting to remember.   

“Well, as we were waiting for our flight, this couple introduced themselves and told me that they felt led to pray for Willie. I felt a bit uneasy at first, wondering if they were scam artists wanting money or something. But fortunately, it wasn't like that. They genuinely wanted to pray for your brother. I remember they told me that Willie's life was going to affect many people, and that he would help others to know God. They just …” 

Her voice catches. “Well, they just encouraged me. They helped me feel … hopeful.” 

The memory comes back to me as she speaks. I don't remember very much, but I recall my mom's tears. And I remember—even at a young age—feeling relieved that somebody seemed to be taking care of my mom, who was working hard to take care of us. 

“This card is a keeper … it makes me happy just to see it,” she concludes. 

“Good enough for me,” I say. And it is. 

I think to myself: When it comes to religion and concepts of God, there's so much potential for abuse and conflict. But there are also people in airports praying for parents of young children with autism, people helping moms like mine to feel hopeful and less alone. And that's a miracle to me, that mom is still being encouraged by strangers from 20-plus years ago. 

There are ripple effects present in the smallest acts of love, and for that, today, I give thanks.