I stood in front of a wall of glass. Beautiful, colourful glass. The light was shining through and splashing colours all over the walls and it mesmerized me. I wanted to reach out and touch it, but was scolded. Stained glass was special, I was told. Stained glass was not to be touched, but only to be appreciated from a distance.
That was when I was young, standing in a church building that I didn’t know. I liked the pretty colourful glass that featured Jesus as a shepherd, Jesus with the children, Jesus praying in the garden. A few years later, I wandered into my mother’s workshop in our basement and was mesmerized again. I could see the dim basement light, shining through her stained glass creations. Smaller scale, but still beautiful. A jewelry box, a cardinal, a blue jay. She made me a trio of balloons that happily hung in my bedroom window. But the piece I most remember was a stunningly beautiful small box. The main colour was green with little flashes of white woven through the glass. And in the middle, she had created a beautiful red and pink rose. Something stirred in me as I watched her gingerly working on that beautiful box. Maybe it awakened my creative heart. Or perhaps it was something more.
Stained glass became even more meaningful to me decades later, after I was married and had children. Someone asked me if they could pray for my children to be free of their autism. It surprised me a bit, because I didn’t know they needed to be set free. I didn’t think autism was a disease. I still don’t. But it did give me pause, and it made me think about what autism is, and what it isn’t.
It is different than you and I. Different programming, different processing, different mechanics. But still useful, still important, still significant. It is harder to appreciate the good when you don’t experience the bad. Harder to celebrate successes when you haven’t been battling trials. It’s life, really. It’s like a life that you or I live, only different. Sometimes I can eloquently describe what autism is, how it affects our lives, the good and the bad. And sometimes, I just think of stained glass.
I am transparent. I live my life in a very transparent way, because I choose to. Because it’s hard not to live life that way when your children spill your secrets to anyone who asks. Because living a transparent life can be a blessing to others. And yet, while I am transparent glass, my children are not. My husband and I have a key to all their locked up places no one else can see. And when you use it, it unlocks the door and inside is beautiful walls of stained glass. So beautiful. It captivates me, but to you it doesn’t look the same.
Because autism is different. Because it’s uncomfortable sometimes. It’s not what you expect. Autism can’t be molded and shaped into a uniform piece, easy to tuck away in a box. There really isn’t any box that autism can squeeze into. Because it’s different for everyone. Because no two autistic people are the same. Because it’s a million different pieces of glass – different shapes, different colours, different patterns. Uncut, uncreated. Raw.
A lifetime is spent creating something beautiful with this glass. Refining, shaping, laying down patterns. And if you, like me, allow yourself to understand autism you might just have a chance to catch a glimpse. And it might just be the most beautiful stained glass that you will ever see.