Several years ago, my son Patrick volunteered at an animal shelter, doing routine chores. He needed the community hours for an honors program. The first few days he came home smiling after working at the shelter, telling me about the dogs he walked and fed and about the cages he cleaned.
One day, he returned from the shelter and stood in the art studio, his face ashen. He said, “I’m going to take a shower.”
I tried to delay him, wanting to find out what was wrong, but he said, “I need to shower first.”
Later, with clean clothes on his body, his hair wet from the bath, he found me in the art studio. I asked, “What’s happened?”
He shook his head.
It took some pleading on my part, but eventually he opened up. His voice quivered with emotion. “I had to clean the crematorium today.” He put his head in his hands. “I had fed those dogs and today I cleaned up their ashes.”
Four years later, he still doesn't want to talk about the day he cleaned the crematorium.
Somebody said to me last week, “It must be hard to have a child with Asperger's. They have to be taught empathy.”
My son has so much empathy I think it might erupt sometimes, flow like lava from his soul, and set the world on fire. The suffering of others—humans and animals—haunts him.