(The following is an open letter to everyone involved with Surfers Healing in Ocean City.)
Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.
It’s been a day since we left the beach and I’m still having a difficult time describing the emotions from the Surfers Healing event in Ocean City.
Grateful and fortunate are two feelings that immediately come to mind after reflecting on the experience of watching our son and others enjoy this amazing day.
My hope is the men and women who are responsible for this event understand the lasting memories and impact they have on families. These are special people who understand the life of children with disabilities and what it means to escape that journey, albeit for a few hours on a hot beach.
The night before Surfers Healing Pam, Carson and I watched a You Tube video on Surfers Healing so he knew what to expect. The takeaway for me was this quote from co-founder Izzy Paskowitz: “Doing just about anything with these kids is challenging on a daily basis, but we put them in the water and let the healing happen for these kids and their parents. I’m blessed to be a part of this worldwide effort.”
That’s so true and for that day our 6-year-old son and about 200 other kids of all ages got to experience the thrill of surfing.
Even before it was his turn to hit the ocean, Carson had a ball, enjoying the arts and crafts activities designed for those with sensory issues as well as yoga. I think he would have been content hanging in that area all day actually.
Heading into the day, I was nervous how Carson would be with going in the ocean with a stranger. He has never been swimming in the ocean without me. I worried there might be attachment issues.
He showed me once again I need to stop underestimating him. He took off with the volunteers, grabbed a lifejacket two sizes too small for him because he liked the pressure on his skin (and the volunteer understood that and went with the flow) and he knew exactly what to do from watching the others before him.
He held hands with two volunteers while he walked to the ocean, hopped on the front of the board, got down and let the surfer paddle them out. Before we knew it, he was further out than anyone as content as could be. The surfer would later tell us he giggled the entire time.
Within a minute or so, he was catching a wave with his surfer buddy, who hailed from California and had the kind of beautiful soul you can only hope and pray your children will grow up to have. He had a wonderful way with Carson. Because he’s non-verbal and has some social awkwardness linked to other developmental delays, some people tend to think he’s unaware and aloof, but that’s not true at all. He’s smart, kind, alert and has a wonderful sense of humor.
There were times watching Carson surf when the emotions got the best of Pam and me. However, it all happened so fast and he caught so many waves, there really wasn’t a lot of time to get lost in the magnitude of the incredible opportunity.
It was later when there was time for reflection and looking through the photos and videos that it started to sink in.
The smile on Carson’s face when he stood up on the board for the first time with the help of the surfer and when he got his trophy afterwards are moments I will never forget.
In life, it’s eerie when you are experiencing moments you know you will never forget. When it involves your kids, it’s natural for emotions to run high.
On this particular day, there was a commonality among the parents standing along the shoreline. Each one of us has a story detailing a journey full of daily challenges that requires a superhuman level of patience to get through. Raising a child with autism or other special needs (as is the case with Carson) is the toughest thing I have ever experienced. Some days I’m great at it. Other days I struggle because I get frustrated by unexpected behavior that conflicts with the values we are raising our children with. It’s a tough ride.
The hundreds of other parents who stood on that beach Wednesday know what I mean. As I looked around and observed the raw emotion shown by these families, I couldn’t help but realize how fortunate my family is because Carson’s disabilities pale in comparison to many of the individuals who got the chance to paddle out and feel the sensation of riding a wave.
The honest reaction of these kids and teenagers was inspiring to behold. The sights and sounds of the day were remarkable and unlike anything I have ever seen.
After his time was up in the water, Carson received a trophy. For Carson, smiling is not easy. It’s usually forced and awkward for photos. On this day, his smiles melted the heart. When he expresses such genuine happiness, all is right in my world.
This was Carson’s day and we were blessed beyond belief that he got to participate. I don’t take tomorrow for granted. None of us know what the future holds. Special needs kids I believe teach us to live for the day, sometimes even the moment. This was a day worth savoring indeed.