My son Sawyer recently found himself taking an Internet quiz to determine how disadvantaged he is. According to the quiz’s reasoning, because Sawyer is white, and male, and American, and heterosexual, he has no disadvantage, which left Sawyer a little irked. Without some kind of identifiable disadvantage, you see, one is not allowed to participate in the conversation about human suffering.
“You could have played the Autism card, you know,” my wife pointed out.
I had been thinking precisely the same thing. Though I dislike the word and what it has come to mean, Sawyer will toss it out sometimes to refer to certain habits of his behavior, both ongoing and from the past. As he uses it, the word is always tinged with self-loathing, that undesirable part of himself that he must embrace the way one must embrace, say, a lame leg, as it will be with you forever whether you want it or not. If you’re looking for disadvantage, you need look no further than that.
“I know,” he said. “But when I went inside I knew it wasn’t true.”
I was glad to hear this, though not in the way I was glad when the first neurologist we’d taken him to told us he wasn’t Autistic. At that time I feared this word, seeing it like a death sentence of sorts, for I believed that anyone cursed with it would live only half a life, sealed off within their disease from any definition of true happiness. Later, he would receive the diagnosis of Autism from the University of Washington Autism Center, but by that time I had come to understand that the word was a catchall to describe an increasingly broad spectrum of behaviors.
What the word did not describe, however, was a disadvantage, though it certainly seemed at times that Sawyer and his pals in the Special Education classes had far fewer tools than their “typically developing” classmates. This was merely a misperception. To call any state of being a disadvantage presumes to know both the future and every shape a meaningful life must take.
If life were merely a game where winning meant having the most money and the biggest house and the most admirers and the most political power, and if winning meant happiness and losing meant unhappiness, then some people certainly have advantages. Fortunately, this is not so. Fortunately, life is a game you win the moment you surrender to the truth that you want to be exactly who you are, that you have never wanted to be anyone else. Who would exchange their life for another? Who would give up everything they have seen, every kiss they’ve received, every meal they’ve eaten, every thought they thought and dream they’ve dreamed just to live in someone else’s house, drive in someone else’s car?
No one, of course. And so how can there be a disadvantage in being anyone? I know that, like Sawyer, by current definitions I too lack any identifiable disadvantages, but this has not kept me from pitying myself and my unlucky life. How I suffer when I think this way. What could be worse than believing you are broken, that you as you are simply aren’t enough? What is the point of doing anything if this is so? There would be no point, and yet everyone keeps doing something, despite all evidence of advantages and disadvantages, everyone keeps moving from moment to moment, making plans and choices, trying and failing and starting again, appearing to remain interested in life just as they are living it.
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I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.