My friend has a developmentally disabled son, now in his 30s if you look at his birth year, but all over the place if you look at his development. I spent the past weekend at their house and the first quality time I’ve had with him in a while.
He can be maddening. Sometimes you want to say, “Could you just stop being so weird and annoying for five minutes?” but he can’t. Soon after you think that, you shrug and relax into “M time” and “M reality.” It’s seriously non-negotiable. If you can cross the bridge, you stand to experience some moments of extraordinary sweetness.
I paint rocks — as everyone knows. I’ve painted a few for M. He loves snakes, so I painted a rock of one of his snakes — a corn snake — as a Christmas present. I’m not sure he recognizes HIS snake in the rock, but he likes the rock and that’s what matters. Suddenly, this past Sunday, M wanted to paint snakes on rocks. I said, “OK, let’s do that,” and sent him out to find some good rocks to paint. He came in with rocks that were too pretty to paint and too small.
“You need to find some bigger rocks, M. Flatter, too. And these are too pretty.” M has a well-developed, if slightly bizarre, aesthetic sense, and I’m fairly sure he chose those rocks BECAUSE they were pretty. He went back out. His mom and I agreed it was a good strategy to send him out to a yard full of rocks so we could have a little piece and quiet.
When he came back he had two plausible snake-painting rocks. He got his paint, a new brush he’d bought at the art supply store the day before when we all went together, and he was ready. He even got a little plastic model of a coiled rattler, ready to spring, to model his painting on. The problem is that the plastic model was three dimensional and the snake on the rock would be two.
“Good idea,” I said. “But we can’t paint exactly that on the rock because it’s flat. Does that make sense? We can paint him, though.” I drew the coiled snake on the rock explaining to M what I was doing. Then he painted the coiled snake white. As the paint dried, he painted another snake on the other rock, this time green. It came out like a green blob because M’s unique physical coordination doesn’t give him excellent small motor skills. The white paint was dry, so I sketched the snake on the white paint and Mark painted it. “We need tan paint,” I said. All we had was an assortment of primary and secondary colors, no earth tones.
“How?” he said.
“Like this. Give me some green.” He slowly and deliberately opened the green paint. He didn’t want to spill it. “Great. Now I need some red.” He did the same with the little tub of red paint. “Awesome. I need some yellow.” Two shades of tan emerged, perfect for the rattler.
Then I sat back and watched. This is where the M magic comes in. No painter EVER felt more love or interest for his/her painting than M did for what he was doing. It was a very beautiful moment and I got to witness it.
You never know. More and more I think the purpose of life is the appreciation of small beautiful moments.
That evening, he, his mom and I played some card games together, Uno and Skip-bo. M is very skillful at both. Then it was time for him to go to bed, but he didn’t want to go. He employed every manipulative trick in his repertoire to delay that moment. At one point he looked at a photo on my phone. I put my hand over my phone, looked up at him, and grinned. He picked up that I was onto him and he started to giggle. I giggled, too. It was truly very funny, our inside joke. And I thought, “Who’d think I’d be giggling at this point in my life?” I silently thanked M for that.