by Kathy Tyson
We are home after a glorious week of family vacation in Corolla, North Carolina. There were fifteen of us and a dog all in one house, and I can still say that it was actually restful. I was elected the photographer for the week, mainly because I have a newer camera, and everyone knows that I like to have it attached to me. Though some might say that spending a lot of time behind the camera would make me detached or not present in the moments of our vacation, I found that the camera actually allowed me to look deeply through a focused lens. Rather than concentrating on the dynamics between families, or by allowing myself to be distracted by other families on the beach, I narrowed my view. My goal: to capture joy. By actively looking to find joy, I was able to block out everything else. It was easy to find joy in most of the family; they express their emotions so openly with their words and facial expressions. What pleasantly surprised me, however, was that no one allowed me to see and feel joy more than my son, Connor.
Since his autism diagnosis, I have often wondered what Connor feels and what he thinks. My constant hope is that he is happy and not lonely. As I followed him intently with my camera, I found myself pondering these questions even more than usual. My intense focus helped me to see that Connor actually experiences joy in a way that I wish I could. He is always focused on what he is feeling – not what is going on around him, not what others are thinking of him, but what he is feeling, good or bad, in every moment of every day.
The moment his feet sank down into the soft sand, Connor reached his arms out and soared until his toes met cold water.
He then spoke to the waves, telling them to “be gentle or else.”
I kept calling, “Connor, look at the camera,” so I could try to capture the joy in his face. But Connor could not take his eyes off of the water. Looking at the camera would have been an unwelcome interruption of precious time spent between him and the waves he had befriended – the waves had his undivided attention.
Eventually, Connor did share his joy with me. It took a little time, as it often does. Things more often than not have to be on his terms, but if I am patient and I follow his lead; if I try not to interrupt his way of experiencing things, he lets me in.
I feel so blessed to have my moments with Connor. Though the moments are brief, and though I am always aware that at any moment, I may lose him again to the wave, to his Pokemon script, or to whatever channel he may be watching in his head, I can always count on him to share glimpses of pure joy. Because it is hard for him to remain engaged with me for too long – because focusing on a person is hard work rather than unadulterated play – the moments are fleeting. But then, I suppose all moments of joy are. Watching Connor this week, I was less worried about whether he was lonely or unhappy, because I saw the joy.
I saw wonder.
I saw curiosity.
I saw intensity and creativity.
And even when I saw him with the other children, who were engaged with each other while he remained focused solely on the wave, I knew that he was okay.
Connor teaches me perspective. He teaches me how to focus my own energy. This vacation I strived to be more like Connor. I tried to take the time to be happy where I was and feel all that I wanted to feel, despite anything else going on around me. I found myself most at peace and most relaxed watching my six-year-old teacher.
I was reminded that I will likely always have to watch him, because at times, he was so engrossed in the wave, the crab crawling from its hole, or the bird that he was chasing away, that he could literally disappear while he is in his world. He forgets to look back to see how far he is from shore, or how far he has run down the beach away from me. His focus is that singular.
But I am grateful to be the shadow that keeps him grounded in this world; that I had the opportunity to follow him, to try to see things through his eyes. By setting my camera lens to focus on joy, I was able to recognize that we all feel and express joy differently. By simply choosing to look for joy, I found it, lived it, and will remember and cherish it as another life lesson from my son.
Kathy Tyson is a regularly featured writer here at cadigancreative.com, as well as a member of Cadigan Creative’s Editorial Board. She holds a Master’s degree in education, Autism and ABA certificates, has seven years of teaching experience, and is currently working to earn her BCBA (Board Certification in Behavior Analysis). She is a passionate advocate for her son Connor, as well as for other families whose lives have been touched by people on the autism spectrum.