A note of gratitude to a(n autistic) friend

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My friend,

You taught me something when we spoke yesterday, my friend. You nearly always do. It’s a gift, that.

I promised you that I was listening – that I was really listening. And I promised you that I would take your words and process them and hear your message.

I was.

And I did.

And here is what I learned …

I look at the world through my lens, as each and every one of us does. Through that lens, I make assumptions based upon my experience, my perspective, even the filter of my neurology. Some I am aware of; some I am not. Some are accurate; some are (wildly) not.

Until yesterday, when people spoke of the power dynamics between people like us – between those like you who are identified (either by choice or by virtue of a neurological make-up that doesn’t offer non-identification as a choice) as autistic and those like me who are assumed to be neurotypical, I understood them to mean ‘Out There – Somewhere Else – In The Big, Bad World’. But I never, ever thought that they could be HERE, In This Place — with You and Me.

You see, I know ME. I know my heart and I know my perspective and I know – or I THOUGHT I knew – that since I view us as equals in every sense, there could be no imbalance of power between us. I was wrong. And in writing these words, I see not only the error but the hubris inherent in them. In the assumption that because I deem us equal, we are so. Wow, must be great to be me. (That’s sarcasm, my friend. We’ve agreed that I’ll always identify it when I use it, because although it may be my second language, it’s not yours. I’m trying never to forget that. It matters.)

I told you that I go to great pains to read and hear and listen and process in a vacuum. That I try hard NOT to filter YOUR words through MY past. And I told you that I hoped that you would always do your best to do the same — that you would take me at face value, avoid assigning to me intent that you’d encountered elsewhere but that, in your heart of hearts, you knew would never be mine.

And I thought that was enough. I thought that with that, we could create a bubble around This Place, the place where we meet and interact. It was a place, I decided, that would be uninfected by Out There. Again, my hubris. But I didn’t know.

What I didn’t know — or, perhaps better said, what I didn’t acknowledge, was that when we leave This Place of intersection – when we move separately Out There In The Great Big World, I still hold power that you don’t have. And whether I want it or not, whether I claim it or not, is irrelevant.

The fact that I believe in — and fight tooth and nail for — our equality Here, There and Everywhere is, in this context, also irrelevant. Because if you don’t have power Out There, then you don’t have it In Here. Even with me.

And that sucks. And it hurts. And it scares me because saying it out loud acknowledges that it taints our interaction in ways that I don’t want it to be tainted. And saying it out loud acknowledges the fact that it’s not something that we can control. That it’s not about us — You or Me or even You and Me — that it’s bigger than all of us. That we are affected by it no matter who You and I are as individuals.

Because as long as I can leave This Place and have my voice heard and respected and trusted in a conversation in which — in a world in which —  yours is still so quickly dismissed, my insistence on our equality In Here is hollow.

That hurts like hell. For you. For me. For my daughter. I can only imagine how it makes you feel. And how it must have felt when you saw that I Didn’t Get It.

I do now.

And I’m sorry that it took me so long.

I’m not beating myself up for it. And I thank you for the reminder not to. You’re right, as long as we are trying, as long as we are evolving, we are doing right by each other. But still, it’s hard knowing that the hurt was there. And that I didn’t see it.

I need to be, and I promise to be, cognizant of it as we move forward together.

So, my friend, I thank you, once again, for helping me to be better at this. All of it.

I thank you for getting into the muck with me to build the bridges that need to be built, messy as the work may be, on such a sturdy foundation.

As exhausting as this is – as God-damned karmically draining as it can so often be, we will keep at it. We have to. Because I don’t deserve to be heard any more than you do. Because my voice is no more valid or valuable or important than yours. Because you deserve better. Because my daughter deserves better. Because we ALL deserve better.

And selfishly, because, for me, there will be no greater gift than equality with you.

Thank you.

Love,

Jess

5 thoughts on “A note of gratitude to a(n autistic) friend

  1. Thank you– for all that. Being outside our own experience, seeing, feeling, understanding it, is the hardest thing of all. A cherished colleague sent me her book about living as an autistic person and I’ve been struggling with how to respond in a meaningful way. It’s a different dynamic than you describe, I thought. But, actually, maybe not that different. Thank you as always for putting words and clear expression to such complexity.

    Karin

  2. There isn’t anything I can add to this except to say you, too, are growing by leaps and bounds. Sometimes, that means that there will be growing pains along the way.

    Love you,
    Mom

  3. Driving Miss Daisy. Sometimes we just don’t see how our existential positions in life are related to outside constructs that we internalize from birth.

    It’s HARD work. But in so many other ways, we have all made enormous progress as humans because we do evolve in thought and heart.

    So let’s keep moving forward. Let’s continue the conversations, even the most painful conversations. And let’s get in that muck and build those bridges between your neurology and my own, between our children’s unique neurology and their peers, and of those around them everywhere.

    Amen.

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