Our 22 year old magnificent son Zachary does not eat. His life has been sustained for over two decades with nutritional life support, via his gastro-feeding tube. Despite all attempts to advance his interest in the heavenly experience that is eating, to this day his body’s survival relies on that tube.
What has evolved though, are Zach’s attempts to normalize some types of food in his life, even though he doesn’t really eat them. For example, Zach asks to go to McDonalds on a daily basis. He wants to order a cheeseburger or chicken nuggets from the drive-thru.
Occasionally Zach will ask for milk, which means milkshake, and I ask him if he wants chocolate or strawberry. It’s fun banter but none of it actually gets into his body. We play along though, hoping that eventually, when he has no where to sit but there in the car, he will eventually make that move and throw down a full on McDonalds binge-a-thon or at least surprise us by eating a big taste of something.
Another one of Zach’s faves is “Chocolate Candy.” He says and asks for it a lot. He knows where the food pantry is and often opens it looking for “Chocolate Candy.” What he means to find are the lovely Lindt truffle balls that come in many flavors. I have always known him to unwrap them more than anything else. He seems to enjoy that.
Over the weekend I saw something I have not ever witnessed before. After going to Costco and buying “Chocolate Candy” and nothing else (not an easy accomplishment) we returned home with the full bag and the receipt. Zach held the candy on the drive home, and once in the house asked for a bowl.
I gave him a bowl and he lost interest in the candy and the bowl, and we got into another activity. Hours later we were sitting on the sofa, he must have remembered the candy and the bowl because without comment he got up and went into the kitchen where he sat on the floor with both.
“Dump it!” He said as he poured several foil wrapped chocolate balls onto the floor. This I have seen before, but what came next, I had not.
Zach sat intently, unwrapping each individual ball, and placed it into the bowl. He was not in a hurry. He was curious about the different chocolate balls, especially when one of them popped out as “white” chocolate, distinguishing it from most of the others.
Zach was focused, present, and well into the work he’d initiated. A few times the chocolate balls rolled out of his hands before he could put them into the bowl (which, when he has one hand completely clenched because it is holding onto the orange bead that never leaves his grip, occurred many times.) When that happened, he didn’t move. He watched it roll slowly until it stopped, out of his reach, and made no attempt to chase it. He just went for the next one and continued. Start to finish, I observed him for five or six full minutes.
Nothing earth shattering about this moment for most, but Zach has ADD among other diagnoses. Anyone who is in Zach’s life knows that he jumps (despite years of therapeutic and chemical interventions) from one thing to the next. If he FaceTimes you, he will give you about 3 seconds to say hello before he hangs up and jumps to the next call. (A routine we have named “serial FaceTiming”.)
If on his iPad and watching a video, he jumps from one to the next, or fast forwards to his favorite section of a particular clip. If on Spotify listening to music, he flies through snippets of each song faster than I can change channels of the radio in the car.
So for most, this intentional, suspended focus on opening chocolate candy and filling a bowl with it, would not cause us to stop what we are doing, and observe in wonderment. But on this day, with this guy, I had to pause. I loved that he didn’t see me. I could take in his every movement and facial expression without him reacting to my presence.
Once his process was complete, he moved to putting all the wrappers in the trash bin, which again, might not seem like a big deal. But with his mis-shapen legs and feet (getting up and down off of the floor) and his very small hands (one completely closed – orange bead intact) it took him four or five different rounds to get all the wrappers in the garbage. Something he initiated with no external input.
I love when miracles unfold in front of me! And I share this experience of Zach’s to remind us all that being present in our activities is the highest level of interaction with the world, that we can strive for.
When proverbially opening our own candy, are we as present and in “FLOW” (a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his best selling book with the same name) in our activities as Zach was? Do we engage in what we are doing fully, or are we a dozen other places in our minds? Do we spend our time doing one thing, wishing it were another or worse, pretending it is?
The pride I feel when I see new developmental parts of Zach emerge is beyond words. I know for sure, that Zach has been, and continues to be one of my greatest and wisest teachers. I was touched to know that he could engage so fully in something he had both the skill to accomplish, and the desire to do so. Matching up those two dynamics can enrich our own ability to get into FLOW.