This past weekend I finally was able to spend Christmas with my family. We just barely missed Epiphany by three days, so we were almost still in the technical Christmas season. But whatever the liturgical, lunar, or standard American calendar said, it was Christmas for us. And it even almost felt like it. As part of the weekend, we took a family trip to the movies. In Indiana they are starting to do this really cool thing where once a month a bank offers a free movie to families of autistic children. You have to sign up ahead of time and you have to be on a special eligible listy thing, so it's really only for these families. It's great for so many reasons.
1. It's free. And these families already spend so much money on treatments and medicines and special lifestyles that the idea of taking the whole family to a movie (especially with ticket prices the way they are!) can make any math-proficient parent balk. Even well off families balk at going to movies.
2. The volume is lowered and the lights are raised. Now, it's not a movie for deaf kids. You can still hear the movie, it's just not so eardrum-shatteringly loud. And the lights aren't up all the way, just enough to keep kids from freaking out. It's a very comfortable environment, and they take special care to make sure everything is adjusted properly before leaving us to enjoy our movie in relative peace.
3. (Speaking of relative peace) All the other kids in there are autistic or related to autistic children. If a kid stands up on his seat or decides to walk around the theater or screams at the screen, it's completely fine. None of the parents are judging the parents of the child; they completely understand. How freeing it must be for those parents. Can you imagine? I'm sure many of them don't ever get to leave the house because they're afraid of what sort of scene their beloved child is going to cause and the people just won't understand. They'll call her a bad mother, or they'll scare other kids, or whatever. But here. Here is safe. What a great great thing.
4. Build up a little community of like-minded, similarly-situated people.
5. Access to information about financial services (it's sponsored by a bank, after all) to aid with medical bills, or anticipating extra expenses, etc. etc. but that are relevant and practical.
My nephew isn't exactly autistic, but he is definitely special needs owing to a severe illness when he was very young. He's a SUPER awesome kid, as are his parents and his younger sister. And I'm so excited they get to do this every month. It only costs them the gas to get to the theater (which still can be a bit). And my parents join them, so here my niece and nephew get to spend quality time with their grandparents and everyone enjoys themselves.
Anyway, we went to see "Yogi Bear." And I learned a very important lesson about environment that day. Yogi Bear is not going to win any Academy Awards. I had very low expectations for it. And let me tell you ... I thoroughly enjoyed myself. If one is going to see a movie like Yogi Bear, and one is even a little less than excited about it, one should go see Yogi Bear with a theater of autistic children. It is not important to them how good the acting is, or the fact that the pie-in-the-face routine is the oldest in the book ... and the most clearly set up. The number of times the running gag is used is irrelevant; it's always funny. Every time. These kids laugh and respond and engage and enjoy themselves. That's what they're supposed to do. So instead of thinking about all the things I could be doing instead of sitting there "wasting my time" on such a "sub par" movie; I laughed and teared up at all the "right" places. And when it was over, it felt like time well spent. Worth every mile I put on the car to get there, to share that movie with those kids, and with my family.
My second story is: I watched a documentary about Isaac Stern tonight. And it was. So great! And it continued to cement in my head the importance of your surroundings. My roommate was downstairs practicing her little fingers off on the piano and that made me want to practice. Then I needed to work on reeds, so I put in this documentary and surrounded myself with this fantastic violinist, hearing his thoughts on music and life and how to balance and engage both and how he got where he did and his reflections on his experiences and lessons ... that made me want to work on reeds more, and I saw in him a person I'd like to be, and indeed a person I actually have the seeds to become. I saw similarities between the two of us. It was like finding a kindred spirit right there in this world class super-famous musician.
I find myself easily influenced by my surroundings and I suspect I'm not alone in that ... well, obviously not in my surroundings, else how would I be influenced?
A few of my coworkers curse fairly regularly to release tension at work, so I now curse more freely. Whatever. But when I'm home, we don't curse. So I don't curse. And it's not a concious decision, it's just the tone of the time. And when I work with one girl who sings a lot, I sing a lot. And when I work with the one who dances, I dance. And when I work with the one who judges, I judge. When I hang out with my musician friends, I geek out on music. When I hang out with my Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I support and am supported in life. When I am around someone who deeply engages and thinks about life, I do the same.
I encourage you to look at your surroundings and see what there is in them that causes you to be there. What do you see in them that reflects who you want to become? What do you see in yourself that is reflecting your surroundings? As the Switchfoot song says "This is your life, are you who you want to be?" That's why I moved to Cleveland in the first place; I wasn't becoming the person I wanted to be, or rather I was becoming a person I didn't want to be ... and it would be foolish to think I continue to do the same things, but expect different results; something would have to change. So look at yourself, then look around you. This is your life, are you who you want to be? Are you surrounding yourself with people reflective of who you'd like to be? Or does something need to change? Some things we don't have control over. That's okay. See these things and acknowledge them, then see if you can do something to alter your reaction to them, because that you do always have control over ... technically.
Always watch children's movies with children. They're like vitamins for your innocence.