As the United States approaches the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, Americans are discussing the implications of our military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan — a move that marks the end of our nation’s longest war.
Though many citizens are grappling with isolationism-versus-interventionism in the Middle East, many others are grappling with the challenges of welcoming their loved ones home — or, in many cases, not seeing their loved ones again on this side of eternity.
This is the focus of “The Extraordinary” by Brad Schaeffer — a commodities trader and writer whose articles have appeared in The Daily Wire, The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, National Review, and other outlets.
The novel tracks the return of Marine Corps Captain Peter Scott from his service in Iraq — but not through his eyes. Nor the eyes of his wife, nor his twenty-something daughter, nor his football star teenager.
The story of Captain Scott is told from the perspective of Wesley — his autistic, middle-school-aged son.
Wes is not like other children. He goes to a “special school” for those on the spectrum. He finds comfort in routines — and struggles to adjust when they are broken. But through it all, he knows his father — who calls his “extraordinary” son his “Ex-man” — loves him deeply.
“I’m sorry, Son. I have to go. It’s, well, it’s my job. There are bad people out there, and I have to stop them from hurting good people. It’s hard to understand. Even for the Ords.”
“Ords” is his term for people who aren’t special like me. He calls me an “Ex.” “You’re extraordinary. Unique. A gift to me,” he would say. He briefly catches my eye. It’s a fleeting moment. Like a rare bird that flits past an otherwise ordinary landscape and then is gone. “I’ll miss you too. But it’s just one tour.”
Having a father who leaves for war — and then returns with only a portion of his former self, both physically and psychologically — is harrowing for any child. For Wes, however, the battle is all the more pronounced. Captain Scott is the only person in the world who truly attempts to understand his “Ex-man.” Others in the Scott family love Wes, but they often see him — and sometimes treat him — as a burden rather than a blessing.
Dad has to leave in the middle of the night. There’s a pall over the house. I can feel it. Sadness. Fear. Regret. Mom’s like the core reactor that sets the mood of our home. This evening that mood is dark, and it frightens me. At dinner I want to scream. I’m not hungry. I just want to rock and moan and bang my plate. I don’t want Dad to go away.
Thomas is also tense, and he’s sharper than usual tonight. It’s in the air. “Can we please just one time eat in peace?”
Dad glares at him. “Thomas. Your brother’s upset. Can’t you see that?”
Thomas recedes. Dad’s the only one who intimidates him. “He’s always upset,” he says quietly, looking my way. I stare down at my carrots.
Families with special needs children take care to ensure that they are loved. It is not easy — indeed, it requires an incredible degree of time, energy, and attention. In the case of the Scott family, these resources are often lacking due to the added stresses of having a father in the Marine Corps. Nevertheless, through the indescribably difficult challenges of their lives, they eventually learn how to love Wes — on his terms instead of theirs.
For the past decade and a half, I have witnessed my uncle and aunt faithfully care for my younger cousin, Ella, who is on the spectrum. Schaeffer’s novel freshly reminds me that Ella and other Ex children are made in the image of God, just as deserving of love and affection as an Ord like me.
I am confident that you will walk away from this book with the same reminder.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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