"I'm scared, Mom."
He was scared all right. I could see it in his eyes and in how his body moved through the airport - just a little hunched, like he was afraid something was going to come at him that he didn't expect. We were walking through the new Terminal 1 at Pearson International Airport. He wore the new jacket I had bought for him at Costco on the way to the airport in my last burst of mother-fussing before he would be gone and there was nothing more I could practically do. The jacket was the top half of a rain suit, perfect for the kind of weather one can expect in England. The bottom half of the suit was safely stowed in his duffel bag soon to be on its way to the belly of the giant airplane he was getting ready to board.
"I'll be praying for you," I said. "You'll be okay. God's brought you this far..."
"Yeah," he said bravely. "I'm scared, but I'm still going."
David has just finished his second year at Queen's. He was captured by the idea as soon as heard about the opportunity to go to a castle in England for a six week study term and let himself begin to dream. He filled out an application and as soon as he was accepted, he applied for a bursary to help with the cost. He filled out the forms on his own, calling us often for guidance, reassurance and a lot of affirmation that it was a dream we thought he should pursue. We talked to him about the difficulty someone on the autism spectrum would have in getting through airport security; how stressful it might be to find the right seat on the right plane, and not to mention finding his way around a strange airport in a strange country to end up, finally, at the right destination. We thought it would be best if one of his parents traveled with him. David knew he needed some help, but he didn't need our help. He approached Disability Services on campus and got the name of someone his own age who was also going on the trip - someone who would watch out for him and was willing to provide the support he might need. "Peer support". Yup, our Davy is growing up.
We met El-amin at the airport, just under a massive grey pillar marked "J" and next to the Air Canada counter. It was still half an hour before they could register for their boarding passes so we had a bit of time to get acquainted with him and his parents who had come along to see him off. El-amin was an only child, I soon found out from his lovely, doting mother, whose head was wrapped in a beautiful scarf. He was very self assured and told me that he was a philosophy major, just finishing his third year.
"Do you believe all that stuff they teach you?" I smiled at him.
He laughed in reply. "No, not any more. I did during my first year, but it didn't take long to realize that all these cool things that sound like the truth, can't all be the truth. You have to sort things through for yourself." (I instantly made a promise to myself to pray for this young man that he would indeed find The Truth.)
We visited for a while and then his friend Emily arrived. She was just as friendly and accepting as El-amin. I stood and visited with her parents while the three students procured their boarding passes and then stood in line to check their baggage.
We parents were all excited and obviously apprehensive a little about sending our children across the ocean, even if it was just for six weeks. We exchanged stories and got to know each other a bit. El-amin and Emily led David through the baggage checking process and I was relieved to see them take his bag across the counter, having feared all this time that it was overweight and not knowing what we'd do if it was.
Rejoined by our children, we left the baggage checking area and drifted over to Gate 8, where we would be saying our final goodbyes. We were joined by a few other students who were on the same study trip and knew each other from school. We all hung together for a bit longer, looking at the planes out the window, and then suddenly everyone was hugging and kissing, and saying their farewells.
I couldn't believe what a warm and wonderful young man was El-amin. His parents told me that one of his jobs on campus was to welcome International students helping them to adjust to life in Canada on a strange campus. He seemed instinctively to have just the right idea of how much support David needed, while at the same time giving him enough space to maintain his self esteem.
"C'mon, Dave. This way." El-amin and Emily waited for David to catch up before they all three disappeared behind the sliding doors where they would undergo their security checks. David turned to give me a characteristically stiff hug and then he was gone.
We parents all looked at each other, suddenly bereft of our children. I could see worry and concern behind their smiles and in the reassuring comments they made to one another.
"They'll be all right," they kept saying over, and over.
I had a sense that I wasn't quite fitting in to the situation somehow. I was actually feeling a bit guilty that I wasn't more worried - like these other parents. Here was my kid with a fairly significant disability headed across the ocean for six weeks. Wouldn't a "good" parent show the same concern as these others? My kid has a disability and I wasn't worried. Yet, all the parents of these "typically developing" kids obviously were.
I thought about it as we all parted ways and I headed back to the parking garage, but it wasn't until I was telling the story to Belinda on my cell phone on the way home that all my feelings began to gel. God had provided El-amin - and Emily, and he would meet all of David's other needs as well. I wasn't worried at all.
Of course I wasn't worried. David is sometimes overwhelmed with anxiety. He struggles in social situations. And he's headed for England. But unlike the other parents in that terminal, my kid knows who to call on in times of trouble when I'm not there.
And I know exactly in Whose hands he is in.
"For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth." Psalm 71:5
"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him." Jeremiah 17:7