My definition of a full circle moment is an experience in your adult life when you are reminded of a feeling, story, or emotion you had in your childhood, and then are able to see the moment clearly from both, the child and adult, perspectives.  I don’t know if that is the exact definition of a full circle moment nor do I know if the story I am about to tell really qualifies as a full circle moment in its true definition, but in my heart, and in that moment, it was to me.

The story begins in my childhood bedroom where my mother would read to my sister and me every night.  When it was my turn to choose the book, I always chose the same story, “Ferdinand.” My mom would try to get me to choose other books but I refused.   To me it was the greatest story ever told.

It was about a bull named Ferdinand who lived in Spain.  He lived with other bulls who actually wanted to be chosen for the bullfight.  It was considered a big honor among the bulls. They ran and jumped and bucked their heads, fighting each other in the hopes of being picked by the matador.   The chosen bull was showered with praise and attention. There was a parade in his honor with lots of flowers and music. Ferdinand was not like the other bulls.  He didn’t want to be chosen he just wanted to sit quietly under the cork tree and smell the flowers. The other bulls, including his family, could not understand him.  

The story takes a surprising turn when one unfortunate day Ferdinand sits on a bumble bee.  It was the same day the matador had come to choose the best, most ferocious bull. Ferdinand was running, jumping and bucking his head.  The matador saw him behaving so wildly and chose Ferdinand for the bullfight. He was carted away. As he made his way through the parade and into the bullring, he was showered with flowers which made him happy.  When the time came to fight he refused to get up. He just walked to the middle of the ring, sat down and smelled the flowers. Thankfully he was unharmed and taken back to his pasture where he spent the rest of his days quietly sitting under the cork tree smelling the flowers.

I am not sure why as a child that story spoke to me, but I LOVED it!  Little did I know that in 25 years that story would speak to me again.  It was 2006, and my son Gabe was 3 years old. He had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier and I was just starting out on a lifelong journey of understanding and acceptance. That spring his Pre-K class was going on a field trip to the Very Special Arts Festival at Oregon Ridge Park.  I had volunteered to set up for the festival so I knew about all of the amazing things in store and I could not wait for him to see and do it all. There were games, crafts, music, a petting zoo with a llama, and a million other fun things to do. The day was tailored specifically for children with disabilities and I was certain he would have fun.  I met his school bus when it arrived, excited to show him around. When he got off the bus he was slightly agitated. There were many kids there and it was a new experience so I thought he might need some time to get used to the action packed environment.

I bought him a can of Sprite and we sat down on the grass to drink it.  What I thought would be a brief rest turned into much more. He finished his Sprite and proceeded to ask for his sunglasses.  I gave them to him and he lay back on the grass and said that he did not want to go anywhere; he just wanted to “watch the clouds go by.”  At one point his teacher sat down with him and watched the clouds. She left and a few friends from his class dropped by our little grass patch and stayed for a few minutes.  Each time I asked if we could join his friends and check out all of the amazing stuff. Each time he said “no” and refused to get up. I started to panic. The bus would be leaving soon and Gabe still had not done a single thing.  Tears formed in my eyes as I watched the other kids running around and having fun. I was sad because I thought he was missing out.

Then Gabe got up!  I thought “Finally, he’s going to have some fun!”  He proceeded to go to a patch of dandelions and pick one for every single person in our family.  We have a big family so it took quite some time. Then something caught his eye and he started walking toward the animals.  I thought, “Yes!” I just knew he was going to love the llama! As we approached he became more fearful and anxious. He refused to look at any of the animals and went over to where a turtle was sitting and just watched it sit there.  I was so disappointed. It was time to get back on the bus.

The moment we arrived home, Gabe marched up to his sister, and with more enthusiasm than I had ever heard, he said, “Emma, guess what I did today!  I had a field trip! I rode on a bus! I drank a Sprite! I watched the clouds go by! I picked you and Daddy (and Bwama, Pop Pop, Aunt Cassie, Uncle Ra Ray, Aunt Karen…) a dandelion!  I saw a turtle and I got to ride the bus again!” He was thrilled. The excitement I saw as he recounted the day to his sister mirrored the excitement I saw in the faces of the children at the festival.   His day was exactly what he wanted it to be! It was with that realization that I had my full circle moment. The memory of my favorite childhood story filled my thoughts and I realized Gabe was my very own Ferdinand.  Just as Ferdinand was content to simply sit and smell the flowers underneath the cork tree, Gabe had found his own joy. He taught me about the presence of real beauty in the details and both he and Ferdinand forever changed the way I view happiness.

My greatest hope for Honestly Autism Day is that at some moment, whether in a conversation with another attendee, in the words or life story of a presenter, or the honest musings of a teen on our panel; there occurs within each attendee, a shift in perspective – a personal moment, like my “full circle Ferdinand,” which brings with it powerful, transforming clarity.

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”― John Lubbock

Blue Sky Studios/20th Century Fox Film Corporation

Blog post by: Deborah Page

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