I do not like to run. Ever since my chubby years, when the warm-up lap during P.E. class stretched my limits, I have hated running’s monotony and tedium. It’s the reason I chose sprinting rather than long or mid-distance back in high school track—the faster the race, the sooner you finish. No wonder, then, that I entertained a bit of irony when I decided to sign up for my first 5K.
A mile is about all I can do; a second and third on top of that will challenge me to the end of my willpower. Yet I did not consider the pain when I signed up for the Autism Speaks 5K on Sunday, April 16, and nor was I interested in any social gain to be had from writing an article “humbly” discussing my altruistic motives in helping a good cause. Rather, I did it for my cousin.
Born a year and a half apart, we spent much of our childhood together. Since I was the eldest of the grandchildren, I looked after him and my little sister. He and I would wrestle and play Sly Cooper on his PS2. For as long as I could remember, my cousin was different. He looked different, talked differently, thought differently. He would say things without prompting or context and often needed extra help from his parents, even into pre-adolescence.
One can figure out the reason for his difficulties. He has autism. And for a long time, I babied him—even into our teenage years, I would commend him on a word well said or talk to him as if he were a child, just learning life’s ropes. In my mind, I believed I was doing him well. He would get the warm, fuzzy feeling from social approval and not need to feel ashamed or even be aware of his difference. But I underestimated him.
In my senior year of high school and his second, he began to hint to our family of a bullying problem. I was devastated. In moving to a new state, I could not be there to support and protect him. Instead, I asked my old friends, seniors, to watch over him and befriend him. They did the best they could and I will forever be grateful to them. But the problem persisted. The bully started sending messages to my relatives and I saw injuries on his body. As we investigated, we began to realize the truth of the situation.
There was no bully. This malicious parasite preying on the love and joy of my family was nonexistent. Instead, the problem was deeper and required much more than faculty intervention or my promises of help. He needed the attention, the love and the care which we had so freely and abundantly provided when we had heard of the problem, but which had been lacking. Recall how I had treated him: not as a lesser person, but someone who wasn’t “ready” yet to face the harsh realities of life, who I thought I had to treat as a child. No doubt, he knew he was different and that we treated him differently. But instead of condescension, he needed affection.
I run, then, not for joy nor pain, for money or a solution—though I pray there will be time for all of these. I run for an individual—a human being for whom I care deeply. I never have and never will call him autistic. I call him a brother—not in blood or even in friendship, for our relationship has hit hard times, but as one with the same need for grace, for patience, for mercy and for love.