There was one notable exception to this, however. When I was sixteen my best friend Chris and I were having a conversation at one end of our high school’s long, dim high hallway. Classes were in session, and so the hall was otherwise empty. Chris and I rarely argued, but on this afternoon some disagreement about a movie or a song had reached a head. “You know what, Bill,” he said finally. “You’re just ordinary. You like ordinary music. You dress ordinary. There’s really nothing interesting or original about you.”
He turned and marched down that hallway as if headed off in search of more interesting friends. For all my teenage insecurities, at that moment I thought, “That is inaccurate. He is not speaking what he actually knows to be the truth. He just believed a lie he told himself that sounded good at the moment but does not actually describe me.” By and by, he and I were friends again and have been ever since. I never held that conversation against him. Why would I? What he had said was no more who he was than was I the ordinary portrait of me he had painted.
Parenting Sawyer was like returning again and again and again to that conversation with Chris. I could not be hypnotized by Sawyer’s behavior into believing that the boy who wasn’t responding to his name would never respond to his name. If I allowed my perception focus only on what he was doing at that moment, alarms would begin sounding in my head: There’s something wrong with him, there’s something wrong with him, there’s something wrong with him. I was never more useless to Sawyer than when that alarm was ringing.
If, however, I could allow myself to see through the veil of his behavior I would see within him what I knew resided within me, the same as I had also known it had resided within Chris. I would see love, whole and complete and unbreakable, seeking its correct expression. Was this not all my life had been? I have tromped about the world, saying this and doing that, and most of what I have done and said were shadows of what I truly meant to share. Yet for all my error, for all my misperception and half-truths and stumbles and accusations, love waits without judgment for my return, just and Chris eventually returned to my friendship.
Neither Sawyer nor I always know how to express love. It’s easy to make a mess of it. But love doesn’t care how badly we mangle the message, and so, ideally, neither should I. In this way, I can learn to wait as patiently for Sawyer or for Chris as love has waited for me.