It was a cold Ash Wednesday morning, and I was running down the sidewalk trying to catch Tyson before he got to the church. Tyson was on the end of the autism spectrum that is deemed by the school board to require one-on-one support, and today that one was me. He attended a Catholic school, and his class was walking down to the parish church for the Ash Wednesday service. The rest of the class was walking, anyway. Tyson was running, because he had to be the Ultra Servant.
Tyson had a reputation for being loud, unpredictable, and disruptive. I was young and early in my career, eager to prove myself and terrified of being perceived as being anything but in total control of my charge. I was not at all happy to be outside of the walls of the school and away from Tyson’s routines and the well-tested strategies I had been given to maintain them. I did not want to be walking to church.
Tyson, however, was delighted. To my horror he broke into a run almost as soon as we were off the school grounds, and I was forced to chase him in a most undignified manner. “Tyson! What’s the hurry?” I joked through gritted teeth, anxiety swirling in my gut.
“I have to be the Ultra Servant.” I stared at him blankly. “I’m an Ultra Servant!” He repeated. “I have to get there first!”
“Ultra Servant! I’m the Ultra Servant, I have to go! He pulled away from me, began to run again. I had no idea what he was talking about and I knew I was failing in my role, but I had no intention of running all the way to the church with Tyson, ahead of the rest of the school. I exercised my meagre authority and made him walk with the rest of the class. Tyson complained bitterly the rest of the way there, close to tears, saying the incomprehensible phrase over and over again: “I have to be the Ultra Servant!” I closed my ears and hardened my heart. Whatever it was, it could wait.
Finally we arrived at the church. His goal in sight, Tyson finally broke away from me and ran inside. I abandoned what little remained of my supposed dignity and sprinted after him. I burst through the church doors in time to see Tyson disappearing through a door next to the altar. I ran up the altar and through the door, my mind filled with nightmare scenarios, of what he might be doing back there, of how the teachers, how the priest, would react.
There was Tyson, calm and composed beside his priest, who was greeting him with happy familiarity and helping him into a white gown. I stared with my mouth open as the priest gestured me back out to where the rest of Tyson’s class sat in their pew with a wave of his hand. “He’s fine! He’s helping me!”
I stumbled back and sat at the back with the third graders, to watch as Tyson performed the duties of an altar server with perfect poise and dignity, as he had obviously done many times. I shut my mouth and shrunk down as far as I could in my pew. When the time came I followed the class up to kneel and take the ashes of my much-needed humiliation on my forehead from the priest, with Tyson assisting. At the end of the service he ran back down the aisle and said, “See? I’m the Ultra Servant!” I nodded my agreement, with nothing left to say, and let Tyson run all the way back to school.