As a creative person – one who still often does not have the confidence to call herself an artist – I feel things deeply and inconveniently, like while in line at the grocery store or filling up my car with gas. I see moments of the kingdom of heaven everywhere and find myself frustrated because I cannot appreciate them fully. There is so much goodness to see, details that deserve to be sat with and relished in and adored, but life usually doesn’t give us this privilege. We have to choose what to focus on and let most of the everyday details slip away. I am constantly grieving these lost details.
Working as a paraprofessional with students with disabilities has been the hardest role I have ever found myself in. Working one on one with young people that live with autism, Down’s Syndrome, and other profound disabilities requires me to be right here and now. When I fail to be, even for a moment, there is a very real risk of my students becoming a danger to themselves or others.
Many of our students’ needs have been considered too much, their sensory needs and behavioral and social issues too disruptive in public school settings. I do not know what it is like to live in a world where my senses are constantly overstimulated, or not stimulated enough, or fluctuating between these two extremes. But I imagine that for those that do, their worlds are especially saturated, that their senses are more vivid – often too much so, in an overwhelming, exposed-wire kind of way – their experiences more immediate.
I don’t intend to romanticize disabilities, but I do intend to celebrate the way my students notice life’s details. Their reaction times are often much slower than those living without disabilities. They need longer to process, answer questions, and respond to prompts. They need a consistent schedule to thrive. And to wait with them, to see them accomplish a task on their own – to be able to sit still for a full minute or to interact with a classmate positively, is a not-so-small victory.
These victories are the small details of life that arrive and pass by so quickly. The teachers and other paras I work with acknowledge them with a gentle enthusiasm that breaks my heart in a really good way. In the kind of way that you know good, kingdom of heaven work is happening. To witness this is a gift – a heavy, meaningful gift that I don’t always want – but a very real gift.
A few recent life details: