I got a phone call today from a dear friend. She lives half a world away.
She lived in this country for not quite a year, in this same Texas town where I live, the town I moved to with the kids back in '07, so my son could attend a preschool that provides special services for children with autism.
She, too, came to Texas with the hope of helping her son. He also has autism. His name is Rayan.
She moved all the way from Saudi Arabia. With her son and daughter. And she was pregnant. And her husband couldn't come with her.
She gave birth to her third baby, little Omar, in a foreign land, without her husband, all so Rayan could receive therapy that he would not be receiving back in her homeland.
If it weren't for autism, this woman and I never would have met. And as much as I wish I could change things for our sons, as much as I wish I could close my eyes and make a wish, and our two beautiful boys would wake up tomorrow and speak to us, as much as I wish that I could erase our son's challenges .....
I am so very glad I know her.
She is an amazing mother. I watched her with her children. I saw patience during times that would have caused others to scream in frustration. I watched her son bite her when he was scared and nervous. She never even flinched.
My friend is back in Saudi Arabia now. Her husband grew tired of living apart from his family, which is totally understandable. I know all too well the toll separation takes on a marriage. My friend was reluctant to leave the US because she wanted her son to have every chance, to receive the therapy he would not be receiving back at home.
But her husband told her she had to return home. And so she left.
I miss her very much. I think about her every time I drive by the apartment building where she and her children lived.
I think about just how much I have in common with this woman, despite our remarkably dissimilar backgrounds. I am embarrassed to admit that a few years ago I probably would have assumed otherwise. What would I, the outspoken liberal daughter of a Catholic mom and agnostic dad, have in common with a Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia?
Now I know better. Our similarities go so much deeper than our love for our sons. They extend to the way we view our children, our families, the world.
And to think that I might never have learned that lesson if I had not met my friend, if we had not reached out to each other the way mothers do when united in worry for their children.
Things have not gotten much better for my dear friend. Baby Omar is developing well, thank goodness. The oldest, Sarah, is close to her cousins and extended family. But Rayan still struggles. And my friend worries about him constantly.
Oh, dear Dina, how I wish you lived closer. I wish I could wrap my arms around you right now and tell you how sad I am for your pain and your sadness. I know how hard it is when you wait and wait and wait to see some huge gain in your challenged child.
Before Dina left Texas, I gave her some pictures. I framed a series of photos of Sarah and my own daughter that were taken at the local botanical park. They are silly, happy photos: two girls dancing and playing, one obviously in awe of the other, much older girl. I gave her a picture of Rayan, sitting at the top of a slide, with his thick curly hair and big brown eyes, totally at peace with his surroundings. And I gave her a photo of baby Omar, which I took one day while he was at my home, sitting in the same little Elmo chair my own children loved to sit in when they were babies.
Dina told me that all of these pictures are on display in her home. That she thinks of me when she looks at them.
I can see those pictures so clearly. I have copies of them in my own albums. It is amazing to me to think that those memories, those deeply treasured memories, are hanging on the walls of a home in Saudi Arabia, and that they are held deeply in the heart of the mother who lives there, just as they are held so deeply in my own.