The morning of the fundraiser, it rained. In fact, it rained the whole day. Because nobody wanted to be electrocuted while using the sound system, the event was moved inside the teeny tiny credit union.
When I stepped inside, the two buses full of students hadn’t yet arrived. A woman approached me and told me about a little boy and some of his behaviors. She suspected he had autism. She has been hesitant to talk to his parents because she didn’t know where to send the family for help, but she had been reading about signs and symptoms. I was happy she felt comfortable enough to talk to me among the hot dog buns and scotcharoo bars. I gave her some resources and told her I’d email her later. I mentioned that Noah at age two had very few play skills, basically just moving things from side to side and looking at the pages of books as they turned. He had scripted speech and repeated some words over and over and over. He lined things up. He often didn’t seem to understand language. He was resistant to change in routine. Transitions were difficult. If a stranger smiled at him out in public, he would cry sometimes for hours. After we got the ball rolling with intervention, he gained skills. She didn’t say it, but she looked surprised. She knows Noah as a seventh grader, as a student who no longer needs any special education support. Could Noah have been that delayed?
I’m sure I could have assisted her more, had we been seated at a quiet table with cups of coffee in our hands. The saxophone quartet had started playing, so our conversation came to a close. I told her she was doing the right thing to bring up the concerns, even though it was difficult. Nobody ever told me they suspected my boys were poster children for autism. I didn’t have the chance but wanted to say, “You never know what is possible. You never know what this little guy is going to do with his life. He will surprise you.”
The women’s choir (a group of 60+ students) sang right outside the Loan Department, while everyone else ate lunch. Or tried. I couldn’t help but notice the bank tellers, who were attempting to talk to customers in the drive thru. How in the world could they hear anything? A few folding chairs were being used by the director, her assistant, and two elderly grandparents who needed seats. Otherwise, it was standing room only.
How could customers walk through the crowd to deposit money? I’m not sure they could. A man and woman opened the door and were surprised to see 100+ students in the credit union, along with a sound system, instruments, and the lunch items. I turned around to see my friend Megan standing behind me. She turned to them and said, “It’s a fundraiser.”
They yelled, “When is it going to be over?”
We shrugged our shoulders and started to laugh. It’s not exactly the scene you expect to see when you say, “Honey, we need to stop at the credit union to deposit that check.” Several minutes later, a man who had been driving an armored vehicle made his way through the crowd to drop off a bag of money to a teller window that was full of pop cans and bottled water. Then he was gone.
More parents streamed in. A few more hot dogs were sold. A man said to me, “Aren’t you hot?” as he took off his wool jacket. I didn’t think the concert would ever end. It was 12:30 and they had been performing non-stop since 11:00. It was already 90 minutes of song, instruments, and dance, and we stood the entire time, just like the students did. And although I was laughing at the situation, really none of the students were. They were true professionals who had worked hard. They had big smiles on their faces at times, but nobody really lost it. I was impressed. And some of the employees, I think, realized they couldn’t take phone calls or work at the teller windows because it was impossible. When the choir sang a song for the second time (yes, a repeat!), I said that perhaps if we stayed long enough, they would have an encore.
A parent standing nearby said, “If you missed a concert or two or the variety show, this is the place to be. They sang it all.”
They did. I was really proud of the group because the circumstances weren’t ideal. Nobody was outside singing in the sunshine. It was difficult to get in line to grab a bag of chips or a bottle of water. Nobody at the credit union seemed bothered. They were able to accommodate all of these young people, parents, teachers, an administrator, and others who crammed into the building to see these performers – all for a good cause.
A soloist sang “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from the movie Funny Girl. I couldn’t help but smile based on the title of the song. She was the only one up front by the Loan Department, which meant everyone else was plastered against the walls elsewhere.
When a soloist played a guitar and sang, I noticed it for the first time.
When the show finally wrapped up at 12:45 (nearly two hours!), I helped clean up. Students did a decent job, but I was able to pick up trash and empty some pop cans before tossing them into the receptacle. The music teacher -- she is one of the most devoted teachers I’ve ever met – must have been exhausted.
“Thank you, Chris,” she said. Then she stopped to look at me.
“My husband is Chris, and I’m Tyann, but I knew what you meant,” I told her. “It’s okay. I know you know who I am. I’m surprised you even know your own name after this long performance.” I don’t think she had a minute to eat lunch. She smiled and wheeled the sound system down the sidewalk in the drizzling rain.
Finally I sat in my van with a hot dog and a little bag of Cheetos. How many people in this big world can say they have sung a solo at the credit union? How many people can say they sang and danced next to the Loan Department and tellers?
I thought about Noah when he was a little guy in special education preschool. Whenever there was a special performance, he became upset when I arrived. He cried every single day when I picked him up from school, even though the teachers had said he was fine until I appeared. I always believed he felt safe around me, so he could open the flood gates and let it go when he was overwhelmed. (The show choir also sang “Let it Go” in the credit union.) But to look at him now, you’d never know he had those issues long ago. He admits that he never gets nervous when he sings. My stomach gets in knots just thinking about it. Noah has sung a solo in front of hundreds of people. Singing is one of his favorite things to do.
My mind jumped back to the woman and her concern for the little boy in her life who may have autism. I thought about the words I never had the chance to tell her. You never know what this little guy is going to do with his life. He will surprise you. Things won’t be easy. There will be a lot of rainy days and frustrations. No matter what the circumstances, the show must go on. He will amaze you by doing things that many others take for granted: following directions, speaking words, writing his name, playing with other kids, becoming potty trained, waiting in line. You never know what’s ahead. Don’t ever give up on him. Give him time, I wanted to tell her, and he will be doing surprising things -- like singing in the credit union on a cold, rainy day.