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Chandra's Blog

 

Entries in Ben (1)

Wednesday
Jul132011

Writers on Wednesday -- Lori Odhner

Though this piece was scheduled before my husband ended up in the hospital, I can't think of a better writer to feature today than Lori, whose essay (and life work) highlights the incredibly generous spirit of the small town we share and her commitment to marriage and family. 

 

I watched the real life drama of this piece unfold last week: Lori's son Ben, a sweet-hearted, big-eyed boy who is on the autism spectrum went missing. The town rallied and I will promise you ahead of time, this story has a happy ending. I teared up when I read her piece on the experience and immediately asked Lori if I could run this.

 

I wanted to broadcast her message and share my gratitude for belonging to a town that not only embraces 'it takes a village' and 'love your neighbor', but also values marriage and family. This is a town who signed and sent a letter of condolence and forgiveness to the stranger who struck and killed the high school secretary in a no-fault accident. This the town that organizes meals for new parents and those who have lost loved ones. Most recently someone put together an ongoing chain of love messages, quotes, poetry or flowers (either through email or in person) to a young couple facing cancer in their first year of marriage.

J and I have been on the receiving end of this embrace when our oldest son was born and spent his early months in the NICU of a hospital downtown. To be the center of this much rally and love is awe-inspiring. Ten years later, I remember fondly the good fairies who came in and changed our sheets, knowing that we were falling into bed exhausted every night, who left us platters of cut up fruit and chocolate, and meals that appeared out of nowhere, and the hand-knit blankets and baby caps...

 

So I had been looking forward to running Lori's story celebrating this kind of caring, when this weekend, J who is recently back from Central America, spiked a frightening fever and ended up in ICU. Though he is looking better and we still don't know why or when to expect him home, one thing is positive: we are held in the embrace of the human community. My phone has been a constant flow of texts and calls and offers and support. My children have been whisked off to their swim practices and metes and sports camps and playdates. Sampson (of the dog blog) has been sprawled out under the air-conditioning vent of neighbors, and everyone has flooded us with positive thoughts, medical insights and string-pulling and love. Last night, a friend stayed over with our kids so that J and I could cozy up in the twin-sized bed at the hospital (Holy Redeemer's Honeymoon Suite!) and watch old Law and Order episodes and joke with the nurses that this was a close to a date as it got for us.  

 

It is an honor to be a part of this community and to share with readers Lori's inspiring story. Maybe you will go on to create this village for those you love. Maybe you will be reminded to hold their marriages and their loved ones close, to help shoulder their burdens. Maybe one of you will be the first to rally a search party if anyone, or anyone's love story, goes missing. Enjoy...

 

 

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Yesterday Benjamin was lost for two hours. I told him that the twins were at a friend's house and I got ready to take him there too while I went to a funeral, but as soon as I found my shoes he was gone. I checked the car. Empty. Looked around the house. Not there. I called the police who were instantly helpful. I posted on Facebook and in an astonishingly short time there were fifty five messages.

 

Curtis-"I'll head down Alden road from the Pike."

Chandra-"Can I help?"

Lisa-"praying for you"

 

Soon a throng of people and four emergency vehicles were waiting in the parking lot around the corner while we cranked out pictures of Benjamin. Dogs trained by people I will never meet, over hundreds of hours in another city, would arrive in five minutes to memorize the scent of his clothes.

 

My heart was frozen, trying not to think about worst case scenarios. Could my entire life be forever charred by this day? It was such an ordinary moment, not like when my oldest son drove from Los Angeles to Times Square to celebrate the new millennium with trillions of strangers which would most certainly include a few thousand malevolent snatchers.

 

Benjamin stopped his Houdini escapes eight years ago and life de-escalated from constant red alert. He will sit in the car, in his favorite seat, whenever he gets wind that we are going somewhere because he does not want to be left behind. Ever.

 

I tried to think the way he does. He would go see Jamie, if he was confused. John and two policemen searched her house. Perhaps he figured out that funerals happen at church and went there. Did he even know the way? The mourners noticed men in uniform combing the grounds. We checked the corners of our closets, the dryer, the trunks of three cars, the bathrooms, the tubs. But he would not hide there. Autistic kids do the same things over and over. He had never done this. Where was he?

 

Benjamin had decided that his sisters needed him. In a burst of heroism he resolved to find them. He scarcely ever calls them by name because he is still confused by twinness and cannot tell them apart, so he was looking for "the girls". But early in the trek it started to rain, hard, and he traipsed into the nearest house, five doors down from us. Their grandmother was home and asked what his name was, which he mumbled an answer to. Her television was on so he plopped down and decided to watch an adventure in lieu of having one. She called John at work, and left a message, but he was pounding the pavement not fifty feet from her phone. She tried our number and left a message, but I was so busy making calls and pacing I did not think to check voicemail.

 

The policeman used his loud speaker to blast out Benjamin's name and to assure him that he was not in trouble but he should come out now. He heard it, but stayed put because he "did not want to be arrested." Besides, Smurfs was getting to the good part.

 

Before the searchers actually fanned out more people arrived home down the street, and having passed several patrol cars blocking the road realized that the small boy in Grandma's favorite chair was probably the object of the commotion.

 

In the aftermath I am enormously grateful. Just now, when I handed him lunch, I sat with him instead of rotating the laundry. We chatted about factoring, and cubes. He smiled.

 

"Zero is a stupid number. When you cube it it is still zero!" I savored the simple sweetness of his presence. 

 

It is cozy to have all your ducks lined up... to know where your children are, and to have dinner in the oven. But falling apart is an experience that brings you to a place more holy than words can define. 

 

People are poised and ready to throw their life aside to find a little boy who will never write them a thank you note, though he would, if pressed, tell you what day of the week your birthday will fall on in 2012 should you be inclined to advanced planning.

 

What would happen if that collective compassion were unleashed on lost marriages?

 

Status Update- I am hurting. I cannot find my resolve to stay in this marriage.

 

How quickly would they forward photos of your wedding day? What people, trained in recovering covenants for hundreds of hours in another city, would arrive to sniff out the clues of its disappearance? How long would it take to have fifty five messages from people with offers to pray, come right away, and help you look for the love you cannot find?

 * *** * 

 

Lori and John Odhner 

BIO:  

Lori and her husband John have nine children and have been leading marriage workshops for most of their thirty years of marriage. Lori writes a marriage blog aimed at a combination of humor, inspiration and real life examples of how to keep a marriage well oiled and running. You can find this at: www.caringformarriage.org