As she grows older, my daughter begins to have a better understanding of the world around her. Even with her developmental delay, which sometimes presents no issues at all but occasionally stands stubbornly in her path, she is grasping more and more of aspects of life that don’t have a direct bearing on her. Things like history, for example, and the beliefs and lives of people very different from herself. That’s no small thing; “Different from Schuyler” encompasses pretty much the whole world, as far as she’s concerned.
This semester in her mainstream middle school social studies class, Schuyler was introduced to a smattering of the world’s religions, and I have to hand it to her teacher. Here in this conservative, Jesus-loving north Dallas suburb, Schuyler nevertheless received a nicely balanced view of the major religions of the world. Between what she learned in class and the discussions we had at home, Schuyler got a pretty good idea of the diverse spiritual pinnings of the people around her, including her agnostic parents.
People eager to see Schuyler turn down a Christian path have often asked how we would react if she decided that she believed in the divinity of Christ and chose to identify as a Christian. The question has the whiff of “How would you like them apples?”, but it’s fair enough. Even now, she’s received the message often enough. “Your family is different from the rest of us.”
What I’ve learned in discussion with Schuyler this holiday season, however, is that she takes a kind of comfort in that difference. She’s learned a little about Christianity, and she’s learned that her immediate family believes differently. But I think the take-home lesson for her has been “I’m different, I’ve always been different, but now my family can all be different together.”
Schuyler understands how tribes are formed, I think, at least on some visceral level. And rather than feeling overwhelmed at how we are spiritually out-of-sync with most of those around us, she is encouraged by our little pod of difference. In her own way, Schuyler understands the concept of family better than most.
Schuyler understands that this holiday season means different things to different people and different faiths. For her, family is the reason for the season. Family, and love, and most of all a commitment to helping others, something she talks about frequently. When we hear sirens, she always comments on it. “They’re going to help someone,” she always says. When asked what she wants to do when she is grown up, Schuyler always comes back to the same answer. “I want to help people.”
She’s been transitioning into a natural advocate ever since my book came out and she began traveling with me and meeting others like herself, as well as the people helping them. I’ve always been pleased about that development; I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing that can be taught to a child, particular one who is herself afflicted, unless there is a good heart ready to learn and grow. Schuyler’s good heart is what it is, and during this time of year in particular, it seems especially generous. And as much as I would love to take credit for that, I know the truth. I understand that Schuyler makes this particular part of my job easy.
I’ve been told that it’s ironic that Schuyler Noelle’s agnostic parents gave her “Christmas” as a middle name. As it turns out, it couldn’t have been a more appropriate choice.