If you’re raising a kid on the spectrum, it is probably a good idea to take a moment tomorrow (Thanksgiving, 2014) and acknowledge how thankful you are for them, quirks and challenges and all. In fact, you should probably be thankful specifically for those quirks and challenges, though I am sure there have been many, many days and nights when you, like I, have thought, “My life would be immeasurably simpler if only he would just do what everyone else does.”
But when I think of Sawyer in this way I’m reminded of the hundreds of rejections letters I received during the twenty or so years I spent writing novels I could not sell. At the time, I was not thankful for any of those rejection letters. In fact, I hated them. Because of them, my life was incomplete; because of them, I had failed at the one thing at which I most wanted to succeed.
Except were it not for those letters, I do not know that I would be doing what I am doing now. I love what I am doing now, which is writing and talking about doing what you love instead of doing what you don’t love or even what you sort of love. Spending twenty years writing novels you don’t fully love is a great way to learn why it is so important to write what you do love to write. Those rejection letters spoke to me in the only language I could hear, and gradually guided me to where I am now.
The same is true of Sawyer. What has made Sawyer’s life so challenging is his intense desire not to do something simply because someone else wants him to. I share this desire, but it is more acute within him than it has ever been within me. It would be a lot easier, I suppose, if Sawyer would just treat his mother and me like the captains of this domestic ship, but he has been mutinous from day one by asking over and over, in both word and action, “What’s in it for me?”
If this sounds selfish, it is often is, and I have hated that selfishness with the same ferocity with which I hated the rejection letters. But that selfishness is only an expression of his and my and everyone’s confusion. It has always been easy for me to step over some invisible line and begin to appease or imitate or conform, slipping into a search for acceptance rather than connection. Once you I accepted myself, connection occurs immediately. The moment I reject myself, all my connection to life is lost.
So yes, I am thankful for Sawyer and his stubborn desire to know what’s in it for him. If you want to learn something, go teach to it to someone else. The line between rejection and acceptance is thin, but the results are as defined as life and death. As Eckhart Tolle pointed out, death is the opposite of birth, not life. Life has no opposite. To be thankful for rejection letters and the spectrum and all things unwanted is to acknowledge life as it is instead of what I believe it should be. In that moment, the battle with life is over, and like every exhausted soldier I am grateful that I can return home to a warm meal with those I love.
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.