Dear Ezra and Lian,
I’m a really conservative guy. Consequently, I’m supposed to be impressed by people’s personal stories where they describe how they “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and became a success. These stories about hard work, self-sacrifice, the postponement of self-gratification, tenacity, etc. can be very inspiring. Unfortunately, they usually inspire skepticism in me. Only if the author is very humble and acknowledges their personal failings and the tremendous help they received from others can I accept the stories as factual. If they sound like glory-seekers, then I assume they are only telling half a story at best.
There’s a couple reasons for that. One is that I personally researched an autobiography of a famous person I met. I had some insights into them through personal connections I had. I came to find out, their story was riddled with half-truths, outright lies and fabrications. Then they tried to take credit for the work of others long after they wrote their book. I struggled for years with what to do with this information. Should I expose this fraud and hurt the thousands of people involved in his organization? It was a huge relief when this person passed away. I’m content to let his falsehoods be buried with him.
The second reason is that Ezra and I have our own “bootstrap” stories. Lian you will probably get one as well. I could tell a very inspiring story of how I escaped poverty through hard work. When other kids were partying every weekend, I was studying hard and working on school projects. I pulled down the highest marks my teachers had ever seen at my school. When I graduated from high school, there was 40% unemployment in my hometown. When I applied for the job I have now, there were hundreds of applicants for every open position. I was the only kid out of high school to get a job offer. Really, I didn’t do anything special. I won the employment lottery. If it wasn’t me, it was going to be some other kid. At that time, they were hiring a diverse group of new employees. My room-mate was the same age as my dad and had taken an early retirement from another job. If every high school graduate in Ontario had studied harder, it wasn’t going to create thousands of new jobs. There was only one spot open for a recent high school graduate. I aced the aptitude testing, but bombed the interview. I was a kid, I didn’t know anything about the job. I was hired because I could learn. My job was a gift. They took a chance on me. I didn’t do anything to deserve it.
Ezra, you also have an inspiring personal story. It is amazing what you have done despite your autism. At one point, I was told you only had a 50% chance of ever talking. The day when I realized that you had autism, you were sleeping in my arms. I started sobbing like I never have before or since. The tears were pouring out of my eyes for a long time. My chest was heaving up and down. (Mommy was laughing at me crying so hard.) I just could not stop. I clasped you in my arms and wiped my tears on your pajamas. I thought you were doomed. I believed you would never be able to escape the limitations of your family. You would forever be dependent on your parents. I felt so terribly sorry for you.
It hasn’t been easy, but you can talk like any other kid. You’ve caught up to your grade level. You can read. You are on track for as normal a life as you want. You could grow up to be a fully functioning adult, living on their own. When you play the piano or get another karate belt, it’s another achievement I would have thought impossible 9 years ago. When you graduate from elementary school, high school or college, you could be pretty proud of yourself. When you get a good job or have a successful career, you could probably tell people about all things you have accomplished despite the disability you were born with. I will probably smack you in the face if you tell that story that way.
Most of the reasons you are overcoming so many autism issues are because of reasons that have nothing to do with you. Despite what it seemed 9 years ago, it looks like you have been born with a mild form of autism. Why does Autism have such a spectrum of symptoms? No one knows yet. You also were part of a privately-funded, experimental autism therapy at York University for 3 years. You received free support from trained professionals. Mommy and I got free training. It was way more than we could ever have afforded. That was pure luck. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time. You had a recent diagnosis, you were the right age, there were a few spots open, we just happened to meet a Speech and Language Pathologist on the program at almost exactly the right moment. Mommy was also extremely unhappy being married to me. We were separated for months, but she came back for your sake; just before the program started. For 2 years, she worked 20-30 hours a week with you. She implemented the therapy at home. You became the shining star on the program. People from other universities, other autism researchers and the government came to watch you perform. Meanwhile, your mom and dad put in the hard work so you could communicate and develop socially. While you were playing with all of us, a miracle took place. You should be eternally grateful for what others sacrificed and freely gave to you. We don’t know how you were able to make some much progress with the therapy, while most other kids only had small improvements. It’s a mystery.
Kids, someone once said, “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.” A lot of people believe and live that. I just can’t. Anything of value we have, it’s a gift. We enjoy unmerited blessings. We don’t deserve them. This is why at Christmas we give presents. Santa doesn’t give gifts to those on the nice list. We’re all on the naughty list and still we get something. It is to honour the Greatest Gift Ever Given; the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem, more than 2000 years ago. He came to an undeserving world. With gratitude, we remember. Merry Christmas.