Autism is a beautiful phenomenon. It is a different way of thinking and an unfiltered view on life.
It can also be difficult, and insidious, and deeply frustrating.
Life with my son Jack and his autism has forced me to consider the ways in which we chase joy, while simultaneously live within the realms of opposites.
I love autism.
It also makes me want to light my eyelashes on fire.
As humans, our emotional pendulum swings wide, and far.
We can feel love, and also experience deep pain, and longing, and worry—all at the exact same time.
I know what it’s like to be grateful, and also feel a pinch of apprehension, with a dash of shame. In fact, this is my recipe for daily living.
Jack is affectionate with his father, but rarely with me.
He drapes his long limbs around his dad, and nuzzles his head into his shoulder. In the evening, he seeks him out on the couch for a snuggle, or a hug.
I might get one arm slung around me for half a second, and only if I ask for it.
For a while, this kind of bothered me.
I mean, I carried him in my body and nursed him and rocked him and loved and fought for him.
This is autism for you.
I love it and I hate it and I love it once more.
Then, I make peace. I admire it. I see it for what it is: a boy who loves his father.
This is a process.
For Jack, the things that bring him joy also cause him a lot of stress.
Yes, he wants to try to the latest flavor of Pepsi, but if we can’t find it in the store, he chews his cuticles and searches online and creates long lists. Once we find, and buy, the coveted item, he insists we all try it and have some and taste it and it is all very stressful, to be honest.
Joy can be stressful. It can make us anxious/nervous/worried.
I mean, most of us insist we love the holidays. A time for special family moments! Grandma’s delicious cookie recipe, and all of the usual traditions.
But then the crazies in our heads descend and we rush around for the perfect tree and the perfect dinner and all the gifts and Grandma’s cookie recipe actually needs 5,47 ingredients.
We are balloon-full of resentment, tired to our bones, and already planning for next year.
This is the opposite of chasing joy. Yet we do it anyway, over and over again.
Because it is possible to feel more than one thing at a time.
Between her opened palms, our earth cradles mosquito bites, Mr. Rogers, cancer, opera music, puppies, and racism.
It seems unbearable, doesn’t it? That Mr. Rogers and mosquitos could breathe the same oxygen. An opera singer inhales before the next note; at the same moment a cancer patient takes a final exhale.
Somewhere else entirely, a crowd assembles, begging for one man’s right to air.
Autism and politics and goodwill.
Take your knee off his neck please let him breathe he cannot breathe why.
Every single day of my silly life, my son Jack takes me on a journey.
It is a warrior’s journey of the voiceless, the unseen, the vulnerable.
Before bed, I tell him I love him. I say it after he arranges his six pillows into place and he settles back and turns his face toward the window. For sixteen years, I have done this. He has never said it back to me, not even once.
But the other night, just before I turned to leave, he said love for good.
He didn’t say it regular-like, with spaces in between the words.
He said it all at once, in a rush, the letters crowded and very close together. LoveForGood.
I tried to ask him what he meant, but he was already off to something else, reminding me we were out of Tide Pods, and the light bulb in the bathroom needed to be changed.
In this big weird life of mosquito bites and opera and a breathless man pinned to the pavement, we might be broken.
Are we broken?
I think so. Yes.
How do we begin to heal?
I want to heal. I want to feel better. I want to be kinder, and gentler, and keep an open mind. I want to be a better neighbor, and a good listener.
This is not easy. Sure, the words are light and sparkly, but the work is long, and gritty. It is specific. It has purpose.
I am easily overwhelmed by it all. I have no idea how to eradicate racism or defeat bigotry or help people understand stereotypes.
One good thing, every day.
This is what I have decided. I will do one good thing, every day.
Write a letter, smile through my mask, donate money, wave to my neighbor.
Offer to listen, post a recipe, make someone laugh.
Compliment, ask, share, connect.
Let us dismantle injustice and demolish prejudice brick by brick, with these small steps.
It doesn’t seem like much, I know. But I believe this is a process.
And if we start here, maybe we can beat a virus and fight back against discrimination so everyone may breathe deep, sweet gulps of air. We can figure out why, and love for good.
Maybe we will hurt a little less.
Maybe we can triumph.
Maybe—just maybe—the biggest changes start with small beginnings.
Jack never really explained what he meant, even when I asked him again the next morning.
I think it means love me in all my mistaken glory and beautiful faults.
Love me for how I try.
Love me for who I am.
Love me for who I may be.
Together, let us chase joy.
We will triumph.
He’s my son.
There are no shortcuts.