How I Forgive

Did you see that story about that school in New Jersey who left a student with Down Syndrome out of the yearbook?

Her name is Glenda. She is twenty-one years old, and the youngest of five kids. 

Her sister wrote a long, detailed post about it on Facebook. It was a good post. 

“Glenda is very active in the school and community, so from her perspective, it was really hard for her to understand why she wasn’t included.”

Glenda DeFabio
Photo: Glenda DeFabio

My name is Carrie. I have a son with autism. His name is Jack. He is sixteen years old. 

Something you should know about me is I don’t forgive easily.

Forgiving, well, it makes me feel squirmy inside, like I am standing naked in front of a big crowd of people. 

It’s too uncomfortable, and raw. I’d rather clutch my resentments close and really let them grow. Then I wallow in the slow burn of being wronged. It is satisfying, and safe.

Someone once told me that when you forgive someone, it doesn’t give him or her permission to hurt you again. And I thought yeah, right.

Just a few weeks ago, I was harassing my husband about how he forgot our third wedding anniversary—in 2001, mind you—and he shouted that I was so unforgiving and I shouted back how that wasn’t true but in the back of my mind I was thinking, I will never forgive you for this. 

I am told forgiveness is like a muscle. We have to flex it, and use it, in order for it to grow stronger.

“We just want to advocate for Glenda and make her feel that she’s a student.”

I like outrage. I like anger. I like a cause. 

Take this story here, for example. I mean, honestly, how hard is it to just include a photo? Are special-needs kids just supposed to simply disappear into the background all the time?

In the midst of my self-appointed outrage, I started combing back through the years, determined to settle on some long-ago slight, or grievance with my own son. 

The thing is, there are none. For the most part, we have been treated with fairness, respect, and compassion.

Turns out, it was all nothing more than a mistake.

The school issued a statement and apologized profusely and said it was a terrible oversight, and normally special-needs student need to identify with a certain grade to include the photo for privacy reasons.

“We deeply regret that the student mentioned in the post was not pictured in our yearbook, and we apologize to her and her family for this omission.” 

I hate mistakes. They make me feel bitter, and skeptical.

Yet I have made so many I can’t even count them all.

“We see her as our sister and not our sister with Down syndrome, and hope all people see it that way as well.”

At first glance, this story is one of exclusion, and meanness.

There are high notes, and low notes, and deep, hushed tones. The bass and the drums thunder and roll with anger.

But if we clear out all the noise and listen closely, perhaps we could discover another melody that is light, and bright, and promising. 

One of family, and sisterhood. 

Advocacy, and messy mistakes, and faith in our own breathtaking humanity.

Forgiveness.

All we have is each other. 

“I’ve always felt like I’ve been her champion through everything and feel really lucky to share her story.” –Glenda’s sister, Claudia.

Written by, Carrie Cariello

Carrie Cariello is the author of What Color Is Monday, How Autism Changed One Family for the Better, and Someone I’m With Has Autism. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, Joe, and their five children. 

Carrie is a contributor to the Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, the TODAY Show, Parents.com. She has been interviewed by NBC Nightly News, and also has a TEDx talk.

She speaks regularly about autism, marriage, and motherhood, and writes a weekly blog at www.carriecariello.com. One of her essays, “I Know What Causes Autism,” was featured as one of the Huffington Post’s best of 2015, and her piece, “I Know Why He Has Autism,” was named one of the top blog posts of 2017 by the TODAY Show.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook, subscribe for exclusive videos, and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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