In 2007, I was working for a travel company coordinating group vacations. I spent a good amount of time with each group, working on hotel choices, planning activities, coordinating flights, and getting to know the travelers. I happened to have a wonderful group of mothers and daughters who were going on a spring break trip to the Bahamas. My contact person was a mom who just so happened to be a special education teacher, so we had many chats about my daughter over the time we worked together. At that point, my daughter was really struggling and, to be honest, I was overwhelmed and lost. She had a formal diagnosis, but her behavior had plummeted to the point where doctors were telling me that we were out of options. She received the designated “therapies,” but we were seeing no changes. It was a really tough point in our lives. I was being told that we needed to consider institutionalizing. I had a newborn baby that I was terrified would also go down this road, a marriage that was struggling to stay afloat, and I was trying to maintain my job. (Thankfully, I had a very kind employer who was more than understanding!) So that morning, as I headed to the airport to see my group off on their trip, I was likely a well-put-together mess.
I arrived at 4 a.m., paperwork in hand, and began checking them in. As we waited for the whole group to arrive, I had my normal conversation with my contact person. She asked about my daughter, we swapped stories about services and school, and she reminded me that my daughter would get through this. As we were having this discussion, a father who looked rather frantic interrupted our conversation. I assumed, as was the norm with travel, his daughter was missing her ticket or they had forgotten to ask something about the trip. I turned to him and prepared to help him with whatever crisis he had, but I was surprised by the conversation, which had nothing to do with travel.
It went something like this:
“I am sorry to interrupt, but I was overhearing your conversation and felt like I had to say something. That’s my daughter over there.”
I knew his daughter very well through our planning of this trip. She was a beautiful young lady who attended a local private school. She was headed off in the fall to some university down south on an academic and athletic scholarship. She was always there surrounded by friends, chatty and kind. That morning she was standing there saying goodbye to her boyfriend, giggling with her classmates, and excited to be headed off on this trip of a lifetime. Her father had brought her to the airport that morning to see her off.
He continued . . .
“She was once just like your daughter. She has autism and was once considered severe; you need to talk to my wife. I can’t tell you everything she did, but she did all these alternative things like diet, and everything changed.”
I wasn’t surprised at his suggestion, because I had read about folks who did other stuff when it came to autism, but upon talking with our neurologist and pediatricians, I had been told to avoid these people that they were all crazy and that there were no answers for autism. And yet, here stood this girl who I couldn’t even grasp was ever like my daughter. And for the first time in a few years, as I watched her hug her Dad and listen to his last minute lectures on traveling, I had hope.
I didn’t get the opportunity to get the wife’s number. I never had another conversation with this father. He disappeared back to his car as soon as the group headed off to their gate. Very quickly, I found myself standing there by myself at 4:30 in the morning not quite sure what had just happened.
I gathered my belongings and went out to my car. I sat there with the engine running and cried like a baby. I will swear it was the first time I exhaled in years. The life we had was not what was intended. There were answers, and I had been lied to about what my child’s future looked like. There should never have been any limitations placed on my child.
It was that day that my husband and I changed course. I drove home and woke my husband and told him that we were changing her diet and going to find the answers. And we never looked back. While I am thankful for so much in my life, this is the moment that not just changed my path, but changed my daughter’s life as well. He saved my child. This random stranger, who just had to say something, opened up a whole new world for my daughter. It is the reason I tell everyone, including random strangers, our story. There may just be someone sitting today thinking about this weird lady who interrupted their conversation and changed their life. Someone who told them there was hope. Someone who shared their story about a child who was once just like theirs. Someone who told them to keep going.
We never know the moments that impact someone, or who that someone will be. In the face of so much negativity, we sometimes have to be reminded of the positive. We have to be told that angels come in all forms. So for this holiday season, and in a time where we all seem to be questioning this crazy world, I choose instead to focus on being thankful for random strangers, people who paved the way, and these special life-changing moments.
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