As has been noted, McDonalds is Wylie’s favorite eating establishment. The drive thru staff is well-acquainted with my car, my order, my children, my life. (In a small town, one can hardly be inconspicuous in a pink Cadillac when your McNuggets are one of the two food groups your son enjoys)! So, I greet the employees by name and smile and make the most of my “most favored customer” status at our local McDonalds. One day, while driving past the hallowed hall of the golden arches in our town, Wylie—out of the blue—says to me:
“Mom, why didn’t Jesus put our house where McDonalds is?”
Now, I’m a reasonably bright individual and am pretty quick on my feet when it comes to witty repartee, but this stumped me. I dug for more information.
“What do you mean, Wylie?”
“Our house could be anywhere, why didn’t Jesus put it there where McDonalds is?”
“Well” I began to explain, “our house was built as a part of the Chapman Heights neighborhood and …”
My answer went off on a tangent about planning commissions and developers and building codes. None of this really sufficiently answered the question for Wylie and it consistently came up over the next few months. Not only was he consumed with “why” Jesus put our house where it was and the McDonalds where it was, he was also particularly interested in what happens after we die. He had learned somewhere that, in his own words, we “turned to dust” and this was of great concern to him. His line of questioning began to diverge from locations of homes and restaurants to the locations of departed souls! And, all of this at the ripe old age of 7! (These conversations have formed the basis of what should follow under a separate cover for future publication: Judeo-Christian Thought According to Wylie. But, some of the most precious of these meditations bear repeating here, if only to give you some more insight into the depth of an Asperger child’s mental capacities).
So, our daily conversations during this theological period would range from addresses to the after-life. I found myself deconstructing the whole of what I have taken thirty years to understand spiritually into manageable parts for my son to digest. For the most part, Wylie consumed my offerings without objection. However, there was one course that proved most difficult for him and that had to do with my own eventual passing. This emerged over a period of a month or two when Wylie would whisper to me in the middle of cooking dinner or at a ball game, eyes glistening with sincere tears:
“Mom, I don’t want you to have any more birthdays.”
“Because I don’t want you to get old and turn to dust!”
Now, as a parent, you can go down the slippery-slope of denial and revert to the pat and untrue response of “that’s not going to happen…” But, out of honesty and integrity, I just could not take the road. So, I chose another path, most likely the one less traveled by.
“Wylie, I don’t want to turn to dust either, but do you understand that if I’m not here with you, I’ll be in heaven? And, heaven is a wonderful awesome place full of all the things we love the most. It’s like a party! And, I’ll be waiting there for you!”
This explanation was met with silence and a nod of acquiescence. But, the subject would come up several more times. Finally, in the kitchen one day after making chocolate chip cookies together (one of his favorite things to eat and to do!) Wylie emphatically said in a breaking voice:
“Mom, please don’t have any more birthdays. I don’t want to be here without you.”
“Wylie, I’m probably going to be here with you for a very long time, but if I get old and die I will go to heaven and wait for you. And, remember, heaven is a wonderful”---but, Wylie cut me off.
“Mom, our house is heaven to me.”
And, now my own eyes were instantly wet with tears. The layers of meaning in this one statement from my little theologian were as numerous as the chocolate chips in the cookie dough we had just made. All I could do was hug him.
“I love our home, too, Wylie. Let’s do our best to not be afraid of the other heaven, ok? It will be just like our home…only better! If you get there first, you look for me and if I get there first, I’ll look for you, deal?” With a hug and a cookie to seal the deal, he didn’t mention it again. However, this was only the beginning of a conversation that will no doubt continue as long as I’m… not dust.