If you had to select ten minutes as the most important and influential slice of your life, what would it be? This question was posed to me by Jeff Pulver at lunch on Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I can’t narrow it down to a single ten minutes slice. It’s more like two separate five minute slices. The first would be the initial time I sat down to write a blog about my son Max, and his impending diagnosis of autism. It was a topic I had never broached in a public forum before. Writing about it would have made it real, far before I was ready to accept that my child had autism. I pushed it down for a long time, until denying what was happening became more work than acknowledging my fears of the unknown and accepting that everything was not okay.
My reason for writing about my son being diagnosed with autism wasn’t noble. It was simply my need to express the feelings that were churning inside me that I couldn’t say out loud for fear of breaking down. It was cheap therapy. It was a way to reach out for support without asking for it directly. When I look back at those initial posts, I feel the rough edges, the rawness of it all. Trying to be strong, figure out what the hell I was supposed to do, and overwhelmed by what the future held. And there was always the underlying, unspoken fear of my depression creeping in and swallowing me whole.
The second five minute period came 2.5 years later when I got laid off from my job. Laid off/canned/fired? Who even knows – I certainly don’t care. I had known that it was time to make a career change for a long time. My family needed someone who could catch all the fly balls that get pitched at us on a daily basis. I needed to be that person. I wanted to be that person. But I also needed to make a living and feed my creative spirit. I couldn’t do this from a 9 to 5 desk job. Trying to was killing me.
I remember walking out to my car after I got the old heave ho, feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off me. The universe was giving me yet another opportunity to learn, and this time I knew I would embrace it instead of turning a blind eye. Within a week I had an opportunity lined up that would allow me to work from home with flexible hours. Within a month I was also getting steady freelance writing work. It all fell into place very easily. I have never felt more fulfilled professionally. And now I don’t cringe when my son’s school phone number appears on my call display.
Without the first five minutes, there would be no second five minutes. It was my life being turned on its head, and deciding to find a way to make it all work – even make sense – that forced me to be honest and make changes. I know that if Max did not have autism, had I not been forced into the world of special needs parenting, that I would still be doing the same unfulfilling job today. I would have been unsatisfied and terribly unhappy. Certainly there would be less stress, but I would have no perspective about what truly matters. I would be a smaller person than I am today.
This brings me to an interesting crossroad. I know I can’t change Max. Fundamentally, he is an individual who has autism. I wish he didn’t have autism, I really do. But I am grateful to him for teaching me about what matters. I am grateful to him for showing me how strong I am. Most of all, I am grateful that because of Max, I discovered that being happy is a choice. I choose to live a full and happy life, whatever that looks like. If I never have an empty nest, if I am always broke, none of that matters. Every morning I am greeted by my children and reminded that I am incredibly blessed to have been afforded challenges that have taught me how to truly live. Not bad for ten minutes.