How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach…
… I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I wrote an earlier post on how children with special needs, especially autism, are able to show affection and the frustration parents face as they patiently wait for their child to reciprocate love expressed on their own. I remember wondering if my son would ever be able to express love to me, or more importantly, understand what it is. Yet, who of us can truly define love? Love is defined in a thousand ways, expressed in a million more ways according to personality, love languages, culture, family background, etc. and doesn’t seem to fit in a one-size-fits-all-box.
While thinking on this during my morning tea, I came across this adorable picture on Facebook:
This reminds me so much of Samuel because he is always asking me how to spell words, and asking me what they mean. Word meanings can be lost on him a lot of times, so he spends a lot of time trying to figure out words and how to use them properly. I remember he actually asked me one time what love was. Explaining such an abstract concept to a six-year-old boy with autism is no simply task.
We were at church the other day, and I had sent the kids outside to get in the van so we could leave. I was walking down the hall towards the exit when Samuel appeared from around the corner. Aggravated that he had not followed my directions, I asked what he was doing. He had an urgent look on his face and was tapping his hands together anxiously and he said quietly and very matter of factly, “I love you.”
Then he turned and went outside to get in the van. Something inside his little mind made him stop what he was doing, and come find me just to tell me that little nugget of sweetness. It melted my heart.
Sometimes at night when I peek in on the kids before heading to bed, I pause just a bit longer at Sam’s bedside. Kids are always angels when they’re sleeping, and Sam’s halo is never brighter than in the hours of 9pm (or whenever he finally falls asleep) – 7am. During the day, even in quiet times, there’s always the possibility of a sudden change in mood or circumstance that can potentially alter his behavior. But at night when he’s sleeping, there’s no worry of anxiety, or crying or frustration. There’s only rest. There’s only peace. Heavenly peace.
I like to stroke his hair and his cheeks, rearrange his covers neatly just the way he likes them, and sometimes just snuggle up close to him. I remember the days when he was a newborn and he would scrunch his whole body up to crawl into the space between my neck and shoulder, as if he couldn’t be hugged and cuddled enough. I remember tracing his lips with my fingers and kissing his forehead as I did with all my babies. I remember staring into his stone-blue eyes and just feeling nothing but immense joy and love. My heart overflows as I examine my son’s peaceful face and I hardly know how to contain what I feel for my son.
Samuel holds such a special place in my heart. I love my two other precious boys too, but my love for Sam is a different kind of love than what I have for Benjamin and Joshua. He has had to work so very hard to be able to speak, let alone to tell me that he loves me. They are words I thought I might never hear uttered from his lips. So, in those fleeting moments of holding his hand and stroking his silky hair while he sleeps, I don’t wonder how to spell love. I know how: S-A-M-U-E-L.