My autistic daughter is in a self-contained special education classroom. However, there are a few activities where she joins the “typical” kids, and that’s called “inclusion.” With an aide she participates in library, art and music. Music is undoubtedly her favorite. She is in the fifth grade chorus and has gone from the little kid who had to be pulled off the stage screaming in fear to the eleven year old who sings with gusto and does whatever hand motions the chorus director asks.
She is now practicing for the spring concert. She is singing in her room, in the family room, and even in the shower. And the song she’s practicing that is getting to me the most is “We Go Together” from the Broadway musical and movie “Grease.” I have my issues with the story of a girl who feels the need to change herself for a man, but as an old Olivia Newton-John fan I can’t help but like the movie. At first I just thought it was cute that they were singing this song. But then I kept hearing her sing over and over, “We go together… together forever…” and thought of the title the song, and the significance of my daughter singing it with her typical peers.
Alright, I know I’m reading too much into it – I know it’s a simple song about high school graduation – but I can’t help myself. As the mother of an autistic child I have felt A LOT of pain over my daughter’s inability to belong (be together) with her typical peers and navigate academia and social situations. Her, along with her typical peers, singing “We Go Together” speaks volumes about our common humanity, responsibility to each other, and belonging (something which almost every autistic parent hopes for for their child). It also speaks to our Christian faith and that, to borrow from Genesis as well as from Jesus in Matt. 25, we ARE our brothers’ keepers.
My daughter “goes together” with the whole 5th grade chorus and they “go together” with her. We’re ALL in this mess called life “together.” They will stand before the audience and proclaim on a level they don’t even understand that this autistic girl goes with them, along with the other autistic children from her class in the chorus, along with the boy with the hearing aid, the girl who speaks little English, the girl in the wheelchair, and the boy who is struggling with his ADHD, the kids going through messy divorces, the child whose dad is fighting cancer, the children who are suffering abuse. In our happiness and in our sadness; in our wholeness and our brokenness, WE GO TOGETHER. We are in communion with one another, all loved equally by God who created us, each of us in our own pain and joy, most of which is known only to God. TOGETHER FOREVER.
My daughter and the rest of the 5th grade chorus do not see the weight I have put on to what should be a simple, fun song. But for me it’s there now and I can’t “unsee” it. You and I, we go together. We belong to each other. It’s a profound and beautiful thing. And when I see her singing it with that wonderful group of beautiful children, I’m going to need a few tissues…