My cousin Sarah called me from the Stoughton Police Department on the afternoon of July 3rd to tell me that her son, JB, was missing. The family rushed out to Stoughton to be with Sarah and to aid in the search for him. Special attention was given to this particular search because JB was autistic and had limited communication skills. To our horror and dismay, JB was found nearby in a retention pond where he drowned.
I was honored —and stressed — by the fact that Sarah wanted me to eulogize JB. How do you eulogize a five year old and keep it upbeat? As I searched for “material” for the eulogy, JB’s aunts and uncle informed me of his enormous affection for SpongeBob Squarepants. The jackpot was when I found out that JB’s favorite SpongeBob program was a show from season six, episode ten, entitled: “Living Like Larry.” I researched the episode on the Internet to find out why JB loved it so much and see if it had a message for us.
This episode showed how Larry the Lobster was admired by all the girls and guys for being a strong, confident, motorcycle-riding daredevil. SpongeBob and Patrick, a couple of goody-two-shoes, asked Larry for pointers on being cool, to which Larry flippantly responds they need to commit to “Livin’ like Larry!” When asked for clarity, Larry responds that it means living like each day as if it were your last. It didn’t take me very long to realize that this “Living Like Larry” episode offered a powerful kiddie version of the theme — Carpe Diem ... seize the moment! I think I now understand why JB watched that episode over and over. It gave language to the way he loved to live. He was vivacious, gregarious, fun-loving, affectionate and smart! He lived without any fear in life ... any! It is so easy to pity those who we think are missing out on the good life. I am certain that there are people who probably pitied JB (and others with autism) because of its limiting effect on his life. Yet, autism didn’t stop JB from laughing, playing, kissing, hugging, running, jumping, and just living. Perhaps JB pitied adults for being so preoccupied with our appearance, careers, bills, craving for fast money and the like.
Maybe that episode articulated, as well as granted permission to, the emotions his young heart experienced each day. Maybe he lived so fully in each moment because he preferred an adrenaline rush over the pangs of fear, dread and regret! And though we now know how and where he died, we also know that he died while doing something he absolutely loved — playing in water. How many of us are living life so fully that when our time is up, we'll be lucky enough to slip away while doing what we love most?
JB's life — and death — are a blaring message to us on how to live each day. His autism was not nearly as big of a problem as people's fear and pity that he wouldn't enjoy life. Autism didn't define JB, nor did it limit his enjoyment of life. He decided long ago to never sit on the sidelines and merely observe life, instead he got out there and joined the game. He didn't just watch the "Living Like Larry" episode. He lived it and consequently is teaching us to do so as well. Rest in peace, Li'l Superstar. Thanks for changing our lives by changing our perspectives about life.
The family would like to thank Stoughton Mayor Donna Olson and her emergency teams for the great care they showered on my family during and after the search. Thank you to the 100-plus people who participated in the JB Autism Awareness Walk last week. We also encourage people to check out the Autism Society (www.autism-society.org) and learn more about this disorder.
Dr. Alex Gee is the senior pastor of Fountain of Life Church and the president/founder of The Nehemiah Corporation. You can find out more about Dr. Alex Gee at www.alexgee.com or follow him on Twitter at @alexgeejr.