Last week, our nation paused to give thanks to our *military veterans*. As I read about all of the wonderful events that day, I began to envision a different kind of gathering. This was not the kind of event to take place on the National Mall or on the White House lawn. There would be no stage. There would be no fanfare. There would be no cameras.
The guests of honor would be tired, but proud. With them, their children – mostly adults now – many of them differently challenged, all of them gifted in so many ways. An incredible gathering in and of themselves, to be honored on a whole different plane. And they would be – God, would they be – but not today. Not in this particular vision.
I’d ask the crowd for their attention for just a moment. There would still be commotion – movement and noise. No one would mind. Most wouldn’t notice.
“I know I don’t have long to talk,” I’d say. “I’ll do my best to make it brief. But I need – NEED – all of us to stop the world just long enough to acknowledge those who walked this road before us.”
I would look at my girls standing with their Dad. Brooke would be wearing her headphones. I’d know she was listening to Godspell. Katie would be looking so grown-up, having convinced me to let her dress up for the occasion.
I’d choke up and have to pause. Someone would hand me a tissue. In this crowd, there are always tissues. And then I’d say what I came to say.
“To those who took those first few steps in total darkness.
To those who stopped only to reach a hand back to those of us who would follow not far behind.
To those whose ‘research’ was slow and laborious – who couldn’t troll for answers ‘online’.
To those whose connections to one another weren’t made in chat rooms, but in waiting rooms.
To those who fought for understanding and compassion and respect, long before there were foundations and celebrity advocates and international events dedicated to global awareness.
To those who did not just fight for services for their children, but who created them.
To those who refused to remove their children from their homes, their schools, their churches and their synagogues no matter what the men in the white coats told them was best.
To those who fought to prove that we ALL would be better for their children’s presence in our communities, in our lives.
To those who convinced educators that their children could learn.
To those who first spoke the word autism aloud, determined to shatter the prejudices contained within it.
To the *Susan Senators* and the Carol Dyers.
To those whose names we know and to those whose names we never will.
To those who wrote books and to those who didn’t.
To those who testified before congress and to those who quietly educated their neighbors.
To those whose children who have long since aged out of the system but who still show up at advocacy meetings, just to be there to offer their perspective.
To those who wept alone and to those who found each other.”
I would take a deep breath, knowing I hadn’t begun to scratch the surface, but knowing too that I was out of time. I’d search for the right words.
“To every one of the mothers and fathers who struggled to give their children – ALL of their children – the lives they so richly deserved and in so doing made it incrementally more possible for all of us to do the same, THANK YOU.”