Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Rememberer

Elias getting his Eagle Scout award last week here in Doha. I was tremendously struck as I looked out into that audience in Doha of all the people, visible and not, who helped him get this award. Many communities interlinked in my mind as I thought of all his mentors whom he has loved and love him.

Definition of a "rememberer": Someone who belongs to a community or has been a part of several or many communities. All those people of the past are pressed into the rememberer's heart--bonds they will never let shrivel and die. The simple unraveling of the memories of people, known and connected, bring comfort and elation. The rememberer, above all, is supremely grateful to be a part of a community, a neighborhood, a family because it gives the opportunity to connect and love even more. Every person is important to the rememberer.

Often times people will ask me what it is like to have a child with autism. They are curious and I want to answer their question as succinctly as possible. The autism journey is individual and personal--no child with autism, of course, is like the next one. But for me, if I could say what I have learned most is: I am blessed to live with a "rememberer." Elias absolutely loves people. The mere mention of anyone who is in his memory bank brings him infinite pleasure and joy. He loves without conditions and boundaries.

Relationships and people are his euphorias. It fuels him to the top to see and visit those whom he loves. Furthermore, he knows their birthdays and talks about the impact they have had on his life. He will even ask about your grandfather's birthday and if he fought in WW2 or the Korean War. He is not only curious about you but he wants to know extensive facts about your family. If no one else is interested in your family history, you can depend on him to be. There are hundreds and hundreds of people in his head swirling around whom he has loved, and he never lets them vanish. Never. I know because I hear the reflective unfolding of his memory bank daily.

When you are an expat who has lived in the Middle East for four-plus years, there is a constant flow of people coming and going in your life. It is ever stretching, transforming. As I say, "You never know how long someone will be on your island." In sometimes brief interludes of time, you try to comprehend and grasp what you are supposed to learn from those people who are placed on the island with you. For most people, we relinquish many relationships because of time and distance. But not for him. No matter how long you have been on his island, he will remember and love you.

This past summer we went to St. Louis for a wedding. We raised our children there for many years so I tried to see as many people as possible. We went back to our old neighborhood and gazed at the home where we had all grown up. Elias pleaded to go to various neighbor's homes to visit them. He wanted to knock on every door and greet them. At first, I resisted. We didn't have that much time. There were events to attend and prepare for. But I agreed to let him walk around, knocking on doors, to see the faces from his old community, his old space of feeling loved.

I was a little ashamed of myself that I was initially hesitant about his request. Everyone wanted to see him, his growth, and the pure pleasure he had in seeing them. Again, I was reminded of the importance of the community I had loved and what was actually still very much a part of me. No matter which community I reside in, he teaches me to be an intentional rememberer--to try the best I can to bind and connect all those people I have loved. He is a benediction and a blessing to me every day.

Thanks for all the multitudes of communities in our pocket. Every one of you are remembered . . . and loved.

Some of the workers in our compound from Bangladesh and the Philippines who happened to be here on the day of his award. The Philippine man had been a Boy Scout in the Philippines and had even gone to the Philippine National Jamboree in the 1990's.

Never forget old friends...
Reunions in St. Louis

The old childhood friend who we found at the door in St. Louis. 

We went to visit beloved Dorothy who has loved and supported him all his life.
Janet, a friend, and teacher, who takes the time to teach Elias many things. In this picture, she is teaching him to play the game of Splendor.

At an art barn in the Tetons where Elias and I teach art to teenage boys. I am beyond grateful for the given gifts Elias's communities have given him.

Here in Doha making bubbles for a child here at the school where we teach art 

A community of people who love us and we love them here in Doha--at a school for children with disabilities. They are our people.

And of course, the community of people as in Where the Wild Things Are when "Max the kind of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all." That is the best kind of remembering... 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Elias' Art: Getting ready for his big exhibit

Art is something you breathe with a different kind of happiness.  --Anni Albers

The incredible Anny Ku from Kaohsiung, Taiwan who has lovingly, patiently taught Elias and me so much about art the past two years. She is a very gifted artist who paints scenes from all over the world, but mostly about Qatar where she has lived for 13 years. Anny Ku Artworks

Sometimes I wonder now what my life would be like if autism had not come on my path. But perhaps, the most important questions are, "Who are the people I would never have met?" So many mentors have almost magically appeared. Elias's first art teacher, Gabriel Deerman, saw more than a 12-year-old boy with autism in 2014 when Elias entered his class. Instead, he saw a boy who desperately wanted to create and connect. Perhaps, also, he saw a new expat mom who needed some sore assistance too. Blog about Creative Connections Since that time, art has gathered friends and brought purpose to a young boy (and a mom) over some difficult bridges. As I have said before, autism and adolescence are not an easy mix. The past four years have been more tranquil and joyful than, I believe, they otherwise would have been without creating art together.

Art has increased his self-confidence, purpose, and curiosity. Elias is willing to try any medium, any project. This summer he took up wood carving--with some kind mentorship.  He is always pushing to the next horizon with me panting, trailing behind. Ha! If I am honest, and I try to be, I know he has brought me, with his art, to other places and people I would have never seen. I know better now how to wait for the unfolding process of not only art but of life itself. I am more patient with the improvision--not expecting immediate results.

Indeed, there is a power and enfolding when we do art. We see again as children, in the splendor of all colors and textures. We again believe, if we ever forgot, that anything is possible. Every time we do a project, we create something new that has never been known before. We are reborn again and again--feeling the exhilaration and renewal of creating. We talk, answer questions to each other. Life and the world makes more sense.

Elias's art has reminded me that yes, he, as a kid with autism, has boundless possibilities. 

Doing work with Adell, curator of exhibits at the Fire Station in Gallery, who is helping Elias have an exhibit. If you live in Doha, you have to go to this place Adell has asked Elias to have his own exhibit this year so we are busily preparing and painting. Initially, I thought it would be too much for him to do an exhibit by himself--maybe share the spotlight? But Adell insisted that he wanted Elias to do a solo exhibit.
Here are are some older paintings from a few years ago. But just a sneak peek of a few that will be in his exhibit. We have a busy year ahead, for sure! 

First exhibit in May 2015 here in Doha at the Malthaf Museum. Encouragement of his first art teacher, Gabriel Deerman

He Lon Bay, Vietnam Painting a place we visited for Christmas three years ago with Seurat style dot painting. Questions as you paint, "Do you remember how big the mountains were? Do you remember the light shining in the ocean in the morning? Do you remember the caves in the mountains?

Qatar desert. Painting with texture and sand 

Qatar desert Questions: Tell me why you like living in Qatar. Let's learn about the animals that live there. What would it be like to journey in the desert long ago? 

Tossing Waves Questions: What does it look like under the water? Let's go and see some pictures. What colors and light are under the water? How is global warming affecting the ocean?

Beach Swirls--painting about 50 different small pictures turn into a mosaic. Lots of small pictures make the whole. Elias and I talk a lot when we paint--telling stories and asking questions. With the conversation and the image in front of him, he begins to understand and see the world in a deeper, more detailed way. For example, asking "Do people have a lot of parts in them? Do you have a lot of pieces and parts in you?"

Idaho/Utah Fall Aspen Trees
Asking questions like, "Did you know that the aspen trees feed and give nourishment to each other under the ground? They help each other to stand. Elias and I never tire of painting aspen trees, the trees that flutter in the wind.

A Raven--With Printmaking, done with his first teacher, Gabriel Deerman
Printmaking is always spontaneous. You watch and discover what appears on the page. A lot like life. We talk about that too.

Painting a commissioned painting for a friend in Utah

Keith Merkely with Elias in our "home" gallery."

Some fun ways Annie taught Elias how to mix various techniques

"Teton Spring"--A commissioned painting that now hangs in Utah
"All the Fruit to hold"