My Column for The Elgin Review July 29, 2020
We were in the same work-group, side by side on our knees pulling weeds from a flower bed in front of Child Saving Institute in Omaha during a regional church meeting years ago. I was living in Lincoln and chose the Child Saving Institute project because I was adopted through the agency as a baby. My ties to the place were deeper than the roots of the weeds we were pulling. He was from one of the Omaha churches. As we worked in the hot sun, we got acquainted. He was gregarious and funny. He wore kindness like cologne and had a smile that lit his face, spontaneously lifting my spirit.
In the way conversations have of traveling from one subject to another, as we moved from weeding to mulching our conversation came around to my youngest son’s Asperger’s Syndrome. Ben was in middle school then. Middle school was better for Ben than grade school, but there were still challenges. I was concerned about the possibilities for Ben’s adult life. I don’t remember the details of our mulching conversation. What I remember is Merlin listened with kindness and then joyfully told me he had Asperger’s Syndrome, too.
Earlier, with glee, Merlin told me his love story about meeting and marrying Tami. He told me about his Ph.D. and his work. Here, in the flower beds in front of the agency that had been my first home, the orphanage where I was gifted with my family, was an embodiment of hope that my youngest son might one day live a rich and full adult life—might marry, could have a meaningful career, could be a beloved, contributing member of his community. Merlin was the first adult “Aspie” I ever met. Generously, he offered to talk with me any time. He was eager to meet Benjamin, and promised me to be of whatever help Ben might need mapping out his future.
Merlin was a gift to me from God. Merlin and Tami moved away from Omaha years before Mike and I moved back to the city so my friendship with him has been mostly through Facebook. If you’re a parent, you know the deep appreciation I feel for this man who took keen interest in my son. When Ben graduated from High School, Merlin was one of his cheerleaders from afar. When Ben graduated from college, I didn’t have to see Merlin’s smile to feel him beaming from hundreds of miles away.
Last week, Merlin posted a picture of himself beaming from inside what looked like a clear plastic robot head. He was in the hospital in California where he worked as a speech therapist in a nursing home. The funny looking contraption on his head was an Italian invention being used to keep Merlin off a ventilator. He had COVID-19. Merlin joked about the sounds his robot head made. They sounded like flatulence and it made him laugh. I laughed when I read his post.
Yesterday afternoon I received word Merlin died. The Italian flatulent robot-head apparently was no match for this dread-disease. I’m not laughing today.
Until now, other than John Prine, whom I’ve heard live in concert, those who’ve died from COVID-19 have been far-away strangers to me. I’ve been fortunate and thankful it hasn’t been as bad as I feared it might be.
Ben’s brother, my middle son, is awaiting the results of the COVID test he took last week. He’s been under the weather for days in Pittsburgh, PA where he lives. This morning COVID-19 is not far away, it’s close to home even though we don’t have many cases here in Antelope County. Will you pray with me for a vaccine, for effective treatment, for Dan and all who await test results, for those who are ill right now, for Tami and all those who’ve lost someone they love?
Thank you for doing everything in your power to be safe and to keep each other safe. We are God’s gift to each other. Just like Merlin was to me.
Park Church is going back indoors for August as long as Antelope County doesn’t have a spike in COVID-19 cases this week. You are welcome to join us for worship 10 miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south or via Zoom at 9:15 every Sunday morning. I am always interested in hearing from you. Beckyzmcneil@gmail.com.