It was late January, and I was on a yearly business trip. About mid-way through, I learned that Cailyn was sick. With each passing hour, I followed up more and inexplicably became more concerned. I was a thousand miles away and felt so helpless. I packed my suitcase a day early, so I could leave on a moments notice. I must’ve seemed distracted, because a coworker called me the night before we were scheduled to leave, with an opportunity to hop a corporate flight back…provided that I was ready to leave right away.
After finalizing the details, I rushed down to the lobby and called Amber on the way. Her reaction was more worry than relief. She assured me that Cailyn’s temperature was down before she put her to bed, and that she was doing better. I had left my old car at the airport exposed, somewhat low on gas, and we were dealing with sub-zero windchill back in Ohio. On top of it all, I’d be traveling on a late night flight in less than perfect weather conditions. Amber was worried and almost talked me out of the trip, but I decided to leave anyway and eventually made it home without issue.
The next morning, I was awake before Cailyn, which was odd. After an additional hour waiting, I went to her bed to check on her. When I found her, she was unresponsive. We rushed Cailyn to the ER and she was admitted to the hospital for multiple nights with a severe case of the flu and croup. The doctor was direct in his diagnosis.
“She’s in pretty bad shape and her oxygen is dangerously low. I’m glad you brought her in, when you did…she may not have been able to wait much longer.”
Nothing in life is more frightening than uncertainty, especially in situations where we lack control. Somehow, watching a recorded game is less gut-wrenching than a live one, even when I don’t know the result in advance. The decision has already been made, the path set in stone…the future known. It feels as though the limitless permutations are removed and the result no longer in doubt. Similarly, the scariest part of a suspenseful movie is BEFORE you see a villain pop out, when the hero is walking from darkened hallway to darkened hallway and nothing bad has actually happened…only anticipated. For much of my childhood, I was completely paranoid of roller coasters, without having ever actually been on one. Only when I finally rode one, did I discover that I wasn’t actually afraid of coasters, rather the idea of riding them.
There is a comfort in knowing our favorite TV characters are likely to to be scripted into the next episode, or that statistics are strongly in favor of surviving the next amusement park ride or airplane landing. Unfortunately, the statistics for a child with “severe” Autism aren’t quite as friendly. Every night for nearly 18 months, Cailyn would wake up between two and four o’clock in the morning, crying and screaming. We slept whenever we could, because a restful night could never be assumed. We felt almost terrorized and completely defeated. More recently, we went through a half dozen whole-hearted attempts to potty train. Each time, giving up after a couple weeks and numerous changes of clothes because she “just didn’t understand.”
Each of these seasons of our life were demoralizing, seemingly without script or hope. Only in retrospect can I look back on them and see the beauty and growth in the trials. The most recent of which resulted in every door and comfort in Cailyn’s outside-of-home life being stripped from her in the matter of months. Her teacher and aides were changing, we’d moved to a new church, and we were moving to new outside therapy programs. To make the situation more tenuous, we’d decided to move schools and every door we sought, seemed to slam in our face. Instead of pushing them open, I implored Amber to wait for the open one. We’d been down this road and I had a peace that everything was going to work for the better.
Within a week of Cailyn transitioning to the new (and public) school that was honestly our third or fourth choice, we received a note home that they were willing to be consistent with potty training, if we were willing to send her in underwear. This was a sensitive topic around our home. Amber broke into bittersweet tears when Dalton, although two years younger, was using the restroom before his sister. The hope was refreshing, but the uncertainty was stinging. Only a few weeks later, I was sitting at home when I heard Cailyn walk into the restroom. I ran in just in time to see her flush. She hasn’t had an accident since. One day, she looked at me, smiled, and said “daddy proud.”
Through Cailyn, I’ve discovered that fate is merely a cosmically impossible series of events which, in retrospect, work in perfect synchronization to save us from ourselves. Every new teacher, impossible task, change in school or church, or other adjustment in Cailyn’s life has been a gateway to improvement. Each mile marker on her journey was facilitated by a moment of crisis, not accomplished in spite of them. Every tear of pain has been book-ended by one of thanks and joy.
The Earth is full of people, asking for a sign. It’s natural to want certainty and guidance in storms. We seek any indication that we are valued, accompanied…known. In reality, these signs rarely come as a flashing light, burning bush, or hungry whale. Instead, they are revealed by examining the past as series of events, each of which absolutely foundational to our current existence. Although sometimes painful and perhaps unscripted, the guidance is undeniable. Whenever I’m feeling fulfilled, I can’t look back at any of my trials without realizing that my more abundant life would be impossible without having experienced them. When I’m suffering, I’ve come to accept that it will eventually be a pivotal season in reaching my next peak. I can have this assurance because I see evidence that I’m playing a role in someone, whose end purpose is bigger than my own…and you can’t plan the end without planning the means.
When Amber and I were dating, we talked about a lot of the things that a serious couple would/should. One of the most important topics was children. Initially Amber wanted two or four children. Although she had this number, she only had one name. She said that, if she had a girl, she always wanted the name to be “Cailyn.” Just as though I’m watching a game with the outcome set in stone, or a movie, wherein I know the hero is victorious, it gives me peace. It is yet another sign that, even before I was entrusted with her life…Cailyn was known.