What’s the world like through the eyes of innocence? Somewhere over the spectrum I see the wonder. I see the wonder of a world not tainted by ignorance and hatred; where superheroes exist and fairy tales really can come true. Children give us a unique opportunity to regain this magic.
“Daddy,” queried my nineteen year old son. “What’s Santa Claus going to bring you for Christmas?”
“Let’s see,” speaking of himself in the third person, Cade answered his question. “Santa will bring you Batman, Superman and Justice League toys.”
“Wow Cade!” I exclaimed. “You must have been a good boy this year.”
“Yeah,” he so proudly agreed. “Daddy, what does Santa bring you if you’re nice?”
“A bag of toys.” Joy beamed from his eyes as he replied. “Daddy, what does Santa bring you if you’re naughty?”
“A bag of poo.”
Although physically an adult, Cade remains a child. Autism may have robbed him of an ordinary life but Cade has taught me extraordinary lessons. Throughout the past two decades Cade has been the most fascinating person I’ve known. He has been a superhero, explorer, spy and space ranger. His adventures were always alluring to a man that settled for a boring job in banking. I must admit, his space ranger days always kept me on edge.
Cade was just two years old and plotting travel to the far reaches of the galaxy. One small step for man became one giant leap from the couch. Moments later we found ourselves in the emergency room with a fractured arm. That night, while my astronaut was fast asleep, I did what most parents would do. I painted his cast to resemble the beloved Buzz Lightyear’s arm. “Perhaps I should have gone with that annoying purple dinosaur,” I thought as Cade shouted, “To infinity and beyond.” Cade may have been sure of his ability to fly but I wasn’t sure of my ability to explain another visit to the hospital. To protect him from the perils of space travel we turned the couch upside down.
All through his elementary school years Cade attended school with typical children. He spent most of the day in classrooms devoted to students with autism. The remaining time was spent in moments of inclusion. Inclusive classrooms place children with disabilities side-by-side with their non-disabled peers. Through inclusion children learn acceptance. Children are given the opportunity to realize that despite our differences, we’re all the same. Instead of forming judgement and fear, the children form friendships.
The end of fifth grade approached and it was time for Cade to find a new school. Cautiously we looked over the middle and high school options presented. Cade’s teacher and several others highly recommended Webb Street School. Webb Street provides a learning environment for students ages 5-22 with developmental disabilities.
“At this age kids can become cruel,” we were advised. “Mr. Melerine, if you send Cade to one of these other schools he will become a drug mule. However, at Webb Street he will be with his peers. He will be with those that understand and appreciate him. At Webb Street he can be himself.”
Determined that Cade should never compromise being himself nor transport narcotics up his rectum, we enrolled him in Webb Street. It was a happy place filled with exceptional children. The school protected the students from the perils of the outside world. At Webb Street being different was not only accepted, it was encouraged.
“Why would anyone harm such beautiful beings?” I often wondered. The answer is “ignorance.” Ignorance causes individuals to somehow feel that they’re better than others. Ignorance doesn’t see beauty in things that are different. Ignorance sees fear and fear breeds evil.
What does evil look like? It’s not zombie-like creatures with decaying corpses like you may imagine. That would be too easy. The vile stench would give it away. Evil lies in faces like yours and mine. Evil is all around us. We let it ‘in’ when we fail to see the beauty in God’s creations. We let it ‘win’ through racism, sexism, homophobia and heartlessness.
I stand guard with the army at Webb Street School. Together we fight to protect those persecuted for being different. To anyone thinking they’re better than others for some pathetic reason, hear this: “You are not smarter than a fifth grader.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned from raising a former space ranger it’s this, “On Playground Earth we’re all created equal.”
Please stop the hate. Nothing good will ever become of it.
Kelly Jude Melerine
- Toy Story, Directed by: John Lasseter, Produced by: Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold, Screenplay by: Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 1995.