If someone had told me that I would write two posts in a row about Bruce Springsteen, on a blog about parenting children on the autism spectrum, I’d have thought they were crazy. Maybe I’m the crazy one, because here I go with post number 2.
Last Thursday, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kicked off their latest world tour in nearby Hartford, Connecticut. In the middle of the day, my wife called me at work to tell me that her sister has an extra ticket and asked for a ‘permission slip’. I admit, my first reaction was jealousy. My second reaction was also jealousy. I fortunately got my act together for my third reaction and said "Sure."
I left work early so she could meet her sisters at a 200 year old tavern nearby (did I mention that I was jealous?). She had no idea where her seats would be but was just looking forward to a fun night out.
Several hours later in Hartford, my wife was wearing a bracelet for her "seat" which happened to be in the standing room only section directly in front of the stage. My sisters-in-law kept telling her "Don’t tell Shawn!"
As she worked her way forward, she spotted a youth, about MJ’s age, wearing the same contractor’s hearing protectors that MJ wears in noisy environments. She also noticed the young man flapping his hands. His face lit up and he began flapping more excitedly as the band took the stage. In between songs she struck up a conversation with the boy’s mother who, with her husband, had traveled from New Jersey to bring her son to see The Boss.
As the concert started, mom and dad took turns holding their 11 year old son, mom on her shoulders and dad in his arms. My wife helped support him on his mother’s shoulders and a fireman from New Haven did the same to help dad bear his weight.
Early in the show, the boy’s mother tried to hold up a banner. She struggled trying to get into a position in the front row while holding her son on her shoulders. A woman standing in the front row saw what was happening and took the banner and held it up for her. The sign said "Your Music Taught our Autistic Son to Speak, Thank You". Mr. Springsteen saw the banner, read it, and walked over to the young man on his mother’s shoulders and handed him the harmonica he had been playing. The younger Jersey Boy lit up and he played the elder Jersey Boy’s harmonica for the rest of the show. My wife observed a few tears, in addition to her own, and noticed that the people nearby moved to form a protective barrier around the family, making sure they had the space they needed for their son.
OK, I’m still a little jealous, but more than that, I’m touched by the kindness that so many people showed to this boy and his family that night.
The words from song The Long Walk Home played that night sum it up:
Here everybody has a neighbor
Everybody has a friend
Everybody has a reason to begin again
My father said "Son, we’re lucky in this town,
It’s a beautiful place to be born.
It just wraps its arms around you,
Nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone
– Bruce Springsteen
I imagine tonight, somewhere in New Jersey, there’s an 11 year old boy happily playing The Boss’ harmonica. Just a couple of Jersey Boys.