Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Samuel's Easter Play

Anglican School's Easter Play (4/3/12)

On Tuesday of Holy Week this year, the Primary Division of the Anglican International School held its Easter play in the Garden Tomb.  Imagine that!  While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has more in terms of archaeology and tradition to recommend it as the probable site of Jesus' crucifixion and nearby burial, the Garden Tomb north of the Old City will always provide a more moving and spiritual setting for many Protestants and most Latter-day Saints as they recollect and meditate upon the miracle of that Easter miracle.

So about noon yesterday we arrived at the Garden Tomb and sat with our friends the Ludlows.  About a half hour later the children arrived on buses from school.  It was a Passion and Resurrection play all wrapped into one, with the children taking parts and singing songs.  Here are some representative video clips from the experience:
Samuel had originally been given the part of Barabbas . . . not particularly auspicious, but that is okay.  He was shy about doing it, and several days before the performance had told his teacher that he did not want to do it.  That ended up being for the best, because I am sure that Samuel would have been frightened when the other children, playing the crowd, had shouted "Barabbas!" and "Crucify him!" so loudly.

Instead he was allowed to sit with his class as part of the chorus, standing and singing some of the songs or being part of other crowd scenes.  In the end, he did not do any of those things.  We had a lapse of communication with the school, which had not really told us much about the play until a few days ago, or with his teacher and the music teacher, who did not contact us at all.  Because of his autism, Samuel needs preparation for these kind of things.  He wants to be part of things and be like the other children, but it is hard.

So he sat in the back, absently-looking around and sometimes vocalizing or flapping his hands, both signs of anxiety for him.  That was hard to watch.  It was sadder that he did not sing a single song or seem to take any notice of the story that is central to our faith.

Fortunately he was seated on the back off to the left behind some big potted plants, so no one really noticed, except for me and Elaine, who were keeping an eye on him and knew what kinds of behaviors to look for.

Samuel, sitting there and trying not to be uncomfortable during the play

It was one of those moments when autism is a hard, painful reality.  Rachel is precocious and a high achiever.  If anything, with her we have fallen into the trap of expecting too much from her.  But with Samuel, we just wish that he could be like any of the other kids with just typical, normal behavior.   In fact, there was a terrible, bitter irony that we were having all these disappointed and hopeless feelings during a play about Jesus and his atoning sacrifice for us, which is the foundation of all we believe and hope for.  We read and teach and testify about Jesus and his miracles, and yet the miracle we want more than anything seems always beyond our reach.

Yet I am still led to recognize the small miracles, which cumulatively over time have amounted to a very great miracle indeed.  Samuel is so much more functional than we had ever hoped he would be, and he is, generally, an incredibly happy child in his own little world.  And we had a small miracle just today, after the play when things seemed dark.

The play was over at last, to Samuel's relief
Elaine, as any mother would do, took the whole play debacle awfully hard.  I know my wife well enough to know that as much as I wanted to comfort her, I just needed to give her some space to mourn.  So I turned my attention to my boy, praying for help to make this be a good experience for him somehow.

At the end of the play, the children took their applause and Samuel, standing at last with the group, gave a little bow.  That was sweet . . . and sad.  When he came up to us afterwards, he asked, "Did I do well?"  How were we to answer that?  He had not done anything!  But he had stayed up there the whole time, even though sitting in front of a crowd must have been terrifying for him, and he had more-or-less controlled his behavior, not allowing himself to be too extreme in his flapping, vocalizations, or "odd" actions.  Suddenly I remembered the horrible, but wonderful, experience that we had had with his being in the school spelling bee last year (if you have not read my essay The Failure that Was a Success: How My Son's Losing the Spelling Bee Was the One of the Proudest Moments of My Life about that experience yet, please do).  "Yes, buddy, you did a good job," was our response.

Samuel looking at "Golgotha" (Gordon's Calvary)
And then the Lord told me what to do.  Most of the children went back to school, but I told Mr. Sheppard that we would be taking Samuel home from there.  While the other children and families left, I asked Samuel if he understood what the play was about.  "Kind of," was his response.

So I led him to the far side of the garden, where a viewing point looks over towards Gordon's Calvary over a busy Arab bus station.  "That's the same as the picture in the book," said Samuel, referring to my Easter book, God So Loved the World.  And before I knew it, I was having a basic, but important, discussion with my son about Good Friday and how Jesus died for us.  The sounds of the buses coming and coming, though at first a disjuncture with what should be a holy site, seemed appropriate to me: outside of the city gates, wherever our Lord was crucified, people were coming and going on a busy road.

See God So Loved the World, 81.
We took our time walking back across the garden, waiting for the area around the tomb to clear out.  And then I was able to take my boy all by himself to the tomb and talk about Easter.  "This is where Jesus came alive again," Samuel said. Yes, or somewhere much like it, I said. The important thing is that Jesus was resurrected, and because of that we will all live again too.  He was quiet but thoughtful.  He let me take all the pictures with him in that place that I had not yet been able to get him to in the eight months that we have been here.

The picture I have been waiting to get . . .

Before we caught a cab home to the Jerusalem Center, we walked through that area of East Jerusalem, in search of so Easter Egg dyes for this weekend.  I talked Samuel into it by promising him an ice cream bar.  While at a small Arab convenience store, he also got a Hippo Candy treat that they have here that he likes.

As we walked down crowded, foreign streets that normally would have been worrisome for him, he was instead rather talkative (for Samuel).  "Where are they from?  What do they speak?"  And then back to the important topic: "When is Good Friday?"  The end of this week, pal.  "That's when Jesus died." "When is Easter, Dad?"  This week, buddy.  "And Jesus is alive again. Where does he live now?" In heaven, where he and Heavenly Father can look down on us and take care of us, was my simplistic answer.

The little gift shop that was our Christmas store in December was now an Easter store.  We got the coloring materials for our Easter eggs.  Samuel cannot wait to make them.  We went home, and he went to his room to play his Wii and watch his Mario movies as usual.  But he was also more talkative, telling me several times, unprompted, "I love you, Dad."  And not long before bed, as Elaine and I were lying on our own bed resting (why is it that getting children ready for bed is such an ordeal that we need to prepare for it?), he climbed in between us to snuggle.  My precious son.  Disabled and so very abled at the same time.

Getting ready for bed

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