A Dad's Journey

Father of Autistic Twins Speaks Out

Browsing Posts published in December, 2012

Why God?

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this appeared in the op ed section of the NY Times.  Those of us with autistic children trying to make sense of our lives can appreciate the thoughts of Father Kevin O’Neil on the subject:

How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?

The killings on the cusp of Christmas in quiet, little East Coast towns stirred a 30-year-old memory from my first months as a priest in parish ministry in Boston. I was awakened during the night and called to Brigham and Women’s Hospital because a girl of 3 had died. The family was from Peru. My Spanish was passable at best. When I arrived, the little girl’s mother was holding her lifeless body and family members encircled her.

They looked to me as I entered. Truth be told, it was the last place I wanted to be. To parents who had just lost their child, I didn’t have any words, in English or Spanish, that wouldn’t seem cheap, empty. But I stayed. I prayed. I sat with them until after sunrise, sometimes in silence, sometimes speaking, to let them know that they were not alone in their suffering and grief. The question in their hearts then, as it is in so many hearts these days, is “Why?”

The truest answer is: I don’t know. I have theological training to help me to offer some way to account for the unexplainable. But the questions linger. I remember visiting a dear friend hours before her death and reminding her that death is not the end, that we believe in the Resurrection. I asked her, “Are you there yet?” She replied, “I go back and forth.” There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a bag of proof and say, “See? You can be absolutely confident now.” But there is no absolute bag of proof. I just stayed with her. A life of faith is often lived “back and forth” by believers and those who minister to them.

Implicit here is the question of how we look to God to act and to enter our lives. For whatever reason, certainly foreign to most of us, God has chosen to enter the world today through others, through us. We have stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, but far more often the God of unconditional love comes to us in human form, just as God did over 2,000 years ago.

I believe differently now than 30 years ago. First, I do not expect to have all the answers, nor do I believe that people are really looking for them. Second, I don’t look for the hand of God to stop evil. I don’t expect comfort to come from afar. I really do believe that God enters the world through us. And even though I still have the “Why?” questions, they are not so much “Why, God?” questions. We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.

One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence. When my younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old, I was asking “Why?” and I experienced family and friends as unconditional love in the flesh. They couldn’t explain why he died. Even if they could, it wouldn’t have brought him back. Yet the many ways that people reached out to me let me know that I was not alone. They really were the presence of God to me. They held me up to preach at Brian’s funeral. They consoled me as I tried to comfort others. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.

A contemporary theologian has described mercy as “entering into the chaos of another.” Christmas is really a celebration of the mercy of God who entered the chaos of our world in the person of Jesus, mercy incarnate. I have never found it easy to be with people who suffer, to enter into the chaos of others. Yet, every time I have done so, it has been a gift to me, better than the wrapped and ribboned packages. I am pulled out of myself to be love’s presence to someone else, even as they are love’s presence to me.

I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on December 26, 2012, on page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Why, God?.


One of the few positives that could come out of the Newtown tragedy is putting a brighter spotlight on the nation’s horrendous mental health system.  That will go a long way to avoiding further tragedies:


image: psychiatrist

Getty Images


When Paul Raeburn needed immediate help for his suicidal son, he had few good  options.  The teen had threatened to sit on nearby railroad tracks until a  train came. Even though Raeburn, a leading health and science writer, was in a  position to know more about the best available mental health services and  treatment options for his son than most, when a crisis hit, he felt he only had  one choice: to call the police and risk that his child would wind up  incarcerated rather than hospitalized.

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/12/20/americas-failing-mental-health-system-families-struggle-to-find-quality-care/#ixzz2Fi4E6021

And the stereotyping has begun.  Let’s ignore the fact that his mom was a bit of a nut job who decided to bond with her autistic son at the shooting range.

Guilt by Association: Troubling Legacy of Sandy Hook May  Be Backlash Against Children with Autism

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/12/19/guilt-by-associationtroubling-legacy-of-sandy-hook-may-be-backlash-against-children-with-autism/#ixzz2FbS2w1zf

Interesting, even if it won’t be available for kids in the next few years, I wonder if you could get it for yourself in the meantime.  Best to keep that idea on the QT.


US News and World Report has an article on a recent study done with a common water pill used to control high blood pressure.  It seems that this drug, bumetanide, can regulate gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter.  It was postulated that regulating this neurotransmitter could help children with autism regulate their brain activity and ease some of their common symptoms.

From Thursday’s NY TIMES, there are times when only an autistic can do the job: