Friday, August 31, 2012

Pure and Lasting...Joy!

Today was the last day of the Next Steps Academy and I couldn't just go home!  Instead I found myself at this great place in downtown Milwaukee called "Splash" where I could just sit and reflect and paint...this hummingbird!

It had to be a hummingbird, you see because the hummingbird is the symbol for JOY!  There is no other word to describe this week.  There is no other way to show just how inspiring the last five days have been, not just to me but to every single adult who had the honor of working with this awesome group of fifteen students who all have autism.

Today was the "performance" and with that knowledge came a very real sense of fright.  Like that little hummingbird, there was lots of movement in and out of the room, sometimes lighting for a moment but then up again and flitting from one spot to another.  We made it through a very short "dress rehearsal" and tested everyone's ability to be flexible.  Some did better at that than others.  One boy had been singing our daily song loud and clear and at the last minute we asked him if he would like to lead the whole group in that song.  He didn't hesitate and just said "Sure".  And he didn't let us down.  He stood tall and proud and sang out loud and clear, leading us through the practice.

Then showtime arrives.  The room is packed.  The kids are doing the best they can to stay in one location.  One boy sat in a chair reading a book, ignoring the growing crowd, and periodically putting his arm on my leg which was his way of asking me to rub it.  One boy stayed in the hallway until it was time to perform, another started playing a game with the teacher...anything to pass the time.  At exactly 11:30, one anxious student loudly announced, "Alright, it's time for Ms. Jenn to start the show!"

Early on, during the initial interviews, one boy had said that all he hoped for was "two minutes of fame!"  Well, today everyone of the fifteen students got at least two minutes of fame!  The cameras rolled and people smiled until their faces hurt.  And in thirty minutes, we were done!  The kids took a bow, the audience applauded (silently) and all of a sudden it was over.  Although everyone was encouraged to stay and visit after the performance, the kids were anxious to leave, already on to the next thing which was "What's for lunch?"

What they didn't realize is that they left us all today...they left us now with a void!  We were watching these incredible hummingbirds, flitting in and out of a skit or a song or a game, and they not only shared their fears, anxieties and factual (sometimes blunt) view of how things should work but they willingly shared their intelligence, their talents, their unique and profound gifts.  They filled our days with a kaleidoscope of color that brought tears to our eyes.  They filled the time so intensely that we left every day exhausted but unable to stop thinking about them and wishing we could have had just one more week!

I asked one boy if he thought he would come back again in the spring.  He said "Well, yes, I think I will.  Will all the other kids in NS1 come back too?"  "I hope so," was all I could say.  And then a mom reaches out to touch my arm.  She is being hurried to the exit by her son.  As she leaves, she says "We will have love in our hearts for First Stage forever!  Thank you for this week!"

I think from everyone of the adults who worked with this group of kids in Next Steps Academy this week, we too will have love in our hearts... for these kids, forever!

Ok, one last funny story shared:  One of the boys is laying on the floor and won't get up.  The teacher says "Come on, it's time to get up!"  His response "I can't get up.  I have autism!"  And she of course replied "So does everyone else in here and they are all standing right now!"

Thank you to everyone who read through my version of this incredible journey.  I have been truly blessed to have had the opportunity to participate this week.  Writing about it at the end of each day just helped me collect my thoughts and relive the JOY!

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