Recently a friend e-mailed me great news. His son, after two long years of gnashing of teeth, heart in his parent’s throats fear, patience and persistence, finally got his driver’s license and promptly drove himself to work. He’ll be driving himself off to his junior year of college a couple hundred miles from home later this month, too. The driver’s license is big news. Not like it’s ever not big news when one’s offspring first get a driver’s license and head off on their own for the first time, but for this kid and his parents it was huge. Asperger’s Syndrome can affect one’s ability to drive. Some “Aspies” can and some simply can’t. So I wept a happy tear when I read my friend’s note. Being able to drive is elemental to independent adulthood in many ways, especially here in the mid-west where public transit is so lacking. How can a young person get to and from work, enjoy a social life and date without being able to drive? (I know some make all of that happen, but it sure isn’t easy for them).
My friend’s e-mail included his kind concern, “I hope this news doesn’t make you sad that Ben still doesn’t drive.” My youngest son, Ben, is also an Aspie. In fact, our families were introduced to each other because a mutual friend knew I’d “been there, done a lot of that” with my Benjamin and might be of encouragement and help to these friends as they came to terms with their young son’s Asperger’s diagnosis. Back when Benjamin was trying to learn to drive my knuckles became frozen in a position of paralyzed terror. My shoulders were so tense one could bounce objects off of them like a trampoline. Gray hairs sprouted on my head at warp speed. You get the idea. I paid a good chunk of money to have “the best driving instructor in Nebraska” give him private lessons. At the end of the last of those lessons, the instructor came to me where I was sitting in my car waiting for the lesson to be done. Bending down to talk to me he said, “Mrs. Brown (I’ve had a name-change since those days—another story or two for another day), If by some terrible chance your son were ever to somehow pass the test and gain a driver’s license, I can guarantee you, it will not be long before you, or some other mother receives a call to go to the morgue to identify your child because of your son’s driving.” That was pretty plain talk. My Ben’s in the percentage of adults with Asperger’s for whom driving isn’t advisable.
Benjamin amazes me. He went away to college, graduated with honors, has myriad good friends, and is building a great life for himself in New York City where the subway system affords him reliable transportation and opportunities to live fully his young adult life. He lives a long way away from home and I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like, but so do both of his brothers and my stepson, all three of whom drive.
So here’s what I’m pondering in all that story today. Why is it, sometimes, we let other people’s happiness rob us of the happiness that is ours? Someone else’s good news isn’t bad news for me most of the time, anyway, unless it’s like we’re both dying and only one of us gets the life-saving cure and I’m not the one who’s been selected. It’s not like good news is an unrenewable resource. It’s not like there’s a limit on happiness. Our friend’s triumph (and it truly is a TRIUMPH!) in being able to drive off into the sunset or wherever else he chooses to drive is reason to celebrate. And, it changes absolutely nothing about my son’s situation or about my happiness that Ben is crafting a great life for himself.
When I lived in Michigan our perfectly adequate 1953 brick ranch home was a couple of blocks from a fancier neighborhood. I often went walking through that neighborhood and thought, “I wonder what they do to earn their living that they can afford to live here? I wonder what makes them so special? I wonder why I won’t ever get to live in a home like these?” And then I’d walk home full of ugly feelings. One day, in prayer it came to me that I could simply change my walking route and instead of letting envy rob me of my joy, I could walk through my own neighborhood of little brick ranch-style homes like mine and give God thanks for well-built homes, neatly kept lawns, kind neighbors and having more than enough of everything I need and a whole heaping helping of luxuries beyond.
“I hope our happiness hasn’t made you sad”–Oh, God. I pray that from now on that need not be anyone’s concern in regard to me. I hope, I pray, I will never again let envy rob me of the joy and happiness I can feel for others no matter what my own situation. Good news is good news.
It’s good news!