Author’s Note: For the last few years I have had the honor of working with children in special education. It has been a humbling and educational experience. Every time I think I understand, I realize how little I know. Christopher, the protagonist of this nonfiction story who has now graduated high school, is one such student who taught me much more than I expected.
WEEKDAY MORNINGS, when it is an A day at the high school where I work, I often end up spending the first hour of my shift hunting for Christopher.
Christopher does not like algebra fundamentals, and I can’t say I blame him. He prefers to walk, climb and discover.
Christopher tromps through the sports fields, watches the leaves in the trees, and stands like a sentinel on the top of the bleachers. Sometimes he watches worms—helping them traverse the black top for the safety of the grass beyond. He also transplants ants from the classroom to the outside and is the best friend of a dog named Denali.
He had told me weeks ago that he had been feeding ducks. When I asked where these ducks were, he said in the grass. It was all I could get from him.
There exists on the east side of the high school a small pond that was a project of the natural resources classes. It was here I thought he and the ducks must be communing. But he and they eluded me each time I went looking.
Then, finally, I discovered them.
Christopher and a mallard.
Somehow, I had been overlooking a different, larger pond in the courtyard between the English and science wings of the north building.
Christopher was perched on large rocks on one side of the pond, quietly watching the mallard in the pond.
Christopher is tall, probably 6’2′′ or 6’3′′ and I doubt if he weighs more than 160lbs. True to his lean, birdlike frame, he moves much like a crane⎯somewhat mechanically and slowly, but also with a sort of beauty.
To see Christopher perched on the rock was like seeing a great heron along a bank. Serene. Waiting.
When I approached, I disturbed the peaceful scene. The mallard left the pond to move farther from me, and Christopher left his rocky perch, probably anticipating that I’d make him go to math.
I chose to make amends by not rushing the necessary, but by making conversation.
Christopher rarely talks, but when it is a topic of interest he will talk long, carefully, and with great specificity. He will even make eye contact.
The female duck he told me, was not to be found this morning. But she had been limping. We considered why.
We watched the mallard grow more comfortable with my presence and eventually return to the pond. Christopher explained to me how to tell if a duck was nervous—by its soft chattering noise. Then he said something that both tickled me at the time and stuck with me.
The duck he said, “was meditating.”
I’ve been studying meditation for much of my adult life; to think of an animal as meditating was both silly and profound. It made sense.
When you see a cat staring out a window or a lizard in the sun, a wolf on a hillside or a horse looking across the field, a deer at a brook or a duck circling a pond, what else would they be doing?
Animals, after all, are perfectly in harmony with the rhythms and nuances of nature. They are, in the moments mentioned above, without worry and at peace. Aren’t these the very ideas of meditation?
I am reminded, too, of biblical poetry that speaks of nature worshiping even, and especially, when we fail to. Rocks crying out and trees clapping their hands. Sparrows that trust.
Christopher, in many ways, is far wiser than I, and I often wonder what he’d be like if he weren’t inhibited by his autism. But I also consider that his wisdom is likely a product of it. He can see what others cannot: meditative ducks.
Tara Gilson Fraga grew up in a rural logging town and started writing when she first learned to hold a pencil. She likes to spend her time with her family in Oregon, when not writing. Tara believes stories have the power to change lives. “I hope my humble piece might help shed some light on ASD…and also on the varied ways we view the world and our place in it.”
Delmarva Review selects the best of new prose and poetry from thousands of submissions annually. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it receives partial financial support from individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The review is available worldwide from Amazon.com and other major online booksellers and specialty regional bookstores. For information about the authors, see the website: www.DelmarvaReview.org
Letters to Editor
Rita E. Connolly says
I have been volunteering with special needs people of all ages since I was a young adult. I’m an old adult now!
My parents had a close friend who fostered special needs people of all ages. I would go to help her when she needed extra hands or needed to grocery shop, etc.
It was the greatest lesson in my life. Special needs people are here for a reason. Not because something went wrong during conception. They have a job to do. To teach. To teach us what is important in life, to teach us to be kind and gentle, to observe and listen, to know what a gentle touch can do. To know that if they make you uncomfortable, then you have a lesson to learn.
Mary Hunt-Miller says
What a beautiful story! Thank you Tara.