Three teenage boys sat in front of me at church Sunday.
It was awful.
They were laughing and talking together during fellowship time. They shook hands and were polite. During service they were attentive to the pastor, but also aware of one another and their place in the world. They were so full of life and potential. I wanted one of them to be mine.
Ethan should have been one of those boys. The problem is not only was he not one of them Sunday, he was never one of them.
He was never that comfortable in a new place, or even among extended family and probably seldom with his best friends. He never seemed to know for sure how to react, if he had the right expression on his face.
For a long time I've been haunted by a similar smile on his face and E1, a forced smile or a hesitancy that shows in the eyes. Now we know hers is a Sensory Processing Disorder. I suppose had we had such a name for it, his might have been another variety of the same disorder. Looking at the world a little differently. Experiencing the sights, sounds, smells and touches around them just a bit differently.
E1 knows already that she looks at things differently. I think Ethan had to figure it out on his own, but he didn't have the right label for it. He thought he was mentally ill, maybe crazy. E1 is going to occupational therapy to learn how to reorganize the way she sees things. He self medicated to shut out the sensations he couldn't control. We will help E1 learn to recognize and appreciate her uniqueness. Ethan knew he was different and wanted nothing more than to fit in.
"Ethan was always different. It was a good different. He was smarter, he saw things different," his best friend told me last week.
Without perspective, however, there came a time when he only wanted to fit in. Using drugs with his friends was a way to do that and simultaneously shut down the things he didn't understand.
He sometimes accused us of just wanting him to be like other boys. To be normal.
The sad part was that was what he wanted, too, far more than we did. He wanted to be like other boys.
He wanted to be one of those boys with their half-formed good looks, their leather jackets, jeans and cargo shorts and their self confidence, sitting on the second row in church.
When he couldn't find a way to be that, he found oblivion in drugs instead. As surely as he lost the things he was fleeing from, he lost himself as well.
Finally, we lost all that remained, the battered body that still could have been all of the things we all wanted him to be, had Ethan been able to be honest and accept the help that was so often offered.
Three teenage boys sat in front of me in church Sunday and I don't think any of my makeup survived the services. The sermon turned to Exodus, and I was Moses, put into a dark place to glimpse the glory of God, and it was the hardest church service I've sat through, ever.
I hope next week the preacher has a different topic. And I hope those boys sit somewhere else.