The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

When Words Will Just Have To Do

A short intro: My son Dustan came to us in his eighth year, by way of a children’s shelter, a stay in ICU, and before that, a lifetime of alternating neglect and abuse. Before he was born, his mother’s habits changed his brain. Afterwards, on more than one occasion, her boyfriends did the same through violence. I share this to give as much info as I can for you to understand the following. His has always been an uphill climb – for words, for motor skills, and for understanding the world around him. He’s now 26, and though small of stature and childlike in nature, there resides a man inside him that wishes to be heard sometimes.

We walk down to the river a couple hundred yards distant, through the woods as often as we can. He likes to chop up sticks, put them in his wagon, and when we get back home we build a fire in the firepit. Sometimes we roast marshmallow.

Yesterday, for reasons I’m not privy to, Dustan asked if I’d pull his wagon for him back up from the river. Normally, the deal is if he wants to pull it down there, he’s gotta be willing to pull it up. And normally, all I do is push for the uphill part using his axe handle sticking out the back. I take the extra load, and he pulls with the same strength as on the flat. If the snow is fresh and deep, I’ll advise him to leave it home, and if he gets into trouble pulling I assist minimally.

But yesterday’s request kinda came out of the blue , almost seemed like he had a specific reason. So I just grabbed the handle and started pulling.

I half-expected him to take on my usual role of pushing, but he didn’t. By the top of the hill I found myself feeling a bit miffed that he didn’t even attempt to help, but I reminded myself of the tone of his request, and didn’t say anything.

We got ourselves back home, he way out ahead. When I finally wheeled up to the firepit, I was sorely tempted to bring up his lack of participation. But he already had something to say.

When Dustan wants to say anything that’s more than a couple words long, he really struggles to connect the words right. We usually wind up playing guessing games when he gets stuck trying to get a word to come out. But he had something to say, and apparently he was determined to get it right. He held up a hand to silence my assistance.

He started out with the common stutter, being stuck on the first syllable. As is often the case, even when he said the word it was still not clear, and I waited for enough context to guess what he was going to say. He doesn’t say much, and often says the same phrases as a sort of representative shorthand for more difficult phrases.

After a couple moments, I gathered he was saying “Thank you”. I said this out loud so he could confirm and relax. But this time, instead of allowing me to help him through it, he said, “no, daddy”. He held up his hand, and continued, “wait”. He went back to working his statement. This was important, apparently.

The next part of the phrase involved the word “helping”. Now i was truly eager to hear what emotion inspired such effort. He wasn’t just dropping verbs and nouns, he was breaking out the good china. There were conjunctions. There were definite articles. This was a sentence on parade, to be dressed up and fit for company.

He started, again and again, getting further through the pile of words on his mind with each passing, until he finally emoted, in full if not roughly pronounced grammar, his Magnum Opus:

“Thank you for helping me pull my wagon”

That may not sound like much, but for Dustan, this was a stretch of epic proportions. It was a hard march through hostile ground, and he didn’t stop until it was complete.

And I stood there, realizing the depth of this moment. Clearly there were reasons he wanted to do this. I didn’t know what they were, nor did I need to. I just basked, with him, in the import of the accomplishment, and gave him a hug. We stood there leaning on one another for a moment or two.

Sometimes, words aren’t even enough to celebrate themselves. We are clearly much deeper than words. They are only the ripples on the surface, bearing witness to the greater import that cannot be expressed. At best, words can only draw us close enough to one another that we can see and feel the existence of the Universal Love.


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One Response to “When Words Will Just Have To Do”

  1. Bodie P says:

    This is such a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it. Those moments when we see our children stretching to achieve something important are heartbreakingly beautiful.

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