One Tiny Vessel

Garth Brooks wrote a song called "The River" and every time I listen to it, I get this picture in my head. The song starts:

"You know, a dream is like a river,
ever changing as it flows,
and the dreamer's just a vessel
that must follow where it goes.
Trying to learn from what's behind you
and never knowing what's in store
makes each day a constant battle
just to stay between the shores."

Life is the ever changing river and I always picture Noah is in this tiny little vessel called autism, and it’s different than any other vessel any of us have ever seen and it’s going down a river that we didn’t even know existed but he is helplessly wanting, or better yet, needing to follow where his river goes.
My whole family is in this little vessel with him, desperately trying to help him figure out the intricate controls and stay between the shores. But we’re new at this and we don't know what's coming around the the next bend and all we have to go on is what we've already experienced. Which isn’t much so far.
We sometimes feel just as lost as he does because the controls on his autism vessel are so different from ours. They are ridiculously hard for all of us to learn.
And this river? This river is not a kind one. Oh, sure, it will lull us into a peaceful calm for days or even months at a time with smooth flowing streams and beautiful tree lined beaches and we think “OK. Cool. We’ve got this.” But then without warning, it turns into a raging white water explosion that engulfs me in it's anxiety ridden waves.
Some days I feel like I could drown.
Those days are hard.
The ones where the river is wild and unforgiving and filling our little vessel with water faster than we can bail it out. It feels like all we’re doing is running it into the banks of this unknown river and every time it happens, it gets harder and harder to get it unstuck and just keep going. We don’t even understand all the controls ourselves; how are we supposed to teach him?!
It feels like the river is getting narrower and narrower but his little vessel just keeps getting bigger and bigger and I’m getting more and more scared that I’m going to run it into a ditch somewhere and Noah will never learn how to control it himself.
Sometimes I feel like I might be failing him.
My arms get tired from rowing.
My brain gets tired of, well, everything and
I just feel drained.
We all do.
But we are an autism family and we are not allowed to give up. It’s not an option.
We can never, ever stop rowing and navigating and coaxing Noah’s little hands onto the big unfamiliar controls of his own vessel in hopes that one day he might understand how to do it on his own.
This brings me to the chorus of Garth’s song.

“I will sail my vessel until the river runs dry.
Like a bird upon the wind, these waters are my sky.
I’ll never reach my destination if I never try
so I will sail my vessel until the river runs dry.”

You see, this is our job. This is our life now. We have each been in our own little typical vessels that work just like everyone else’s, handling things quite nicely, going down a very familiar river until Noah’s vessel came along. Now we have all hitched our vessels to the back of his and we are all helping, hoping, learning and teaching everything as we go. Everyone reaching, working and searching together for a new destination.
A new and different goal in life.
All with Noah in mind.
But where are we going?
Where is this beautiful, intimidating, unrelenting river taking us?
In what harbor will our little S.S. Noah end up?
I gotta be honest here,
I have no idea.
We are all taking this journey one day at a time.
But when we get there; all of us together in this tiny little vessel, and we raggedly climb ashore, I will turn around to look at my family; a little worse for wear and with a few more wrinkles, bumps, bruises and gray hairs than they should but with a glow of pride from within them that plainly shows the hard work, determination, and the sacrifices they made along the way and the unconditional love they all have for Noah. And each other.
And I will smile.
Because I will know;
we never quit trying.
We never quit rowing.
We never gave up.

“Too many times we stand aside
and let the water slip away
till what we put off till tomorrow
has now become today.
Don’t you sit upon the shoreline
and say you’re satisfied;
choose to chance the rapids
and dare to dance the tide.

And there’s bound to be rough waters
And I know I’ll take some falls
But with the good lord as my captain
I can make it through them all.”
Garth Brooks
The River