If you are raising a child on the spectrum, at some point you will probably find yourself confronted with the question: What are we? It was certainly true for me. Though I had always been a philosophical fellow, this was not a question I felt equipped or particularly interested in answering. In truth, I feared the answer. The clues were all about me, and I did not like where they were pointing. The dead alone, heaped in my imagination in their rotting finality, told a dreadful story. The disease that sometimes preceded this death was yet another grim chapter. Finally, human cruelty, examples of which were legion beyond cataloguing, spoke of a dark and twisted inner world from which none could say he was honestly exempt. What are we? There were days it seemed that any semblance of happiness I might know was dependant on not answering that horrible question.
When Sawyer came along I found myself asking that question again, but with genuine curiosity. For instance, I quickly understood that we were not our behavior. All of the challenges Sawyer faced stemmed from his unusual behavior. For a time we dealt with him as if he was his behavior. Except sometimes he exhibited the behavior we were trying to fix, and sometimes he did not. Sometimes he talked to himself when you were with him, and sometime he would talk to you. He, I finally understood, was not the behavior; he was that which chose a behavior. If it was true for him, it was true for me, and true for those people I called cruel.
It was then I began to teach myself to look through the veil of behavior. It was not so easy. Behavior, like words and money and laws, is what we share. Behavior appears to be the building blocks of realty. In truth, behavior was just a reflection of an always-shifting inner reality. If I perceive someone as an enemy, I will behave as if he is an enemy; if I perceive him as a friend, I will behave as if he is a friend. In this way, I am more something that perceives than something that behaves.
And my perception, like Sawyer’s perception, like everyone’s perception, is not in anyway bound to the world around me. I am never required to perceive anyone as an enemy, no matter his race or religion or what weapon he might carry. The perception of friend or enemy is always a choice. Sawyer himself was a friend or an enemy depending on the lens through which I viewed his behavior. My mind is like a diamond, each facet a different lens, a different story, and I am forever free to turn and turn and turn that diamond.
Which meant that what I am is free. Much of the time, of course, I do not feel so free. I can feel trapped by time and this aging body and the laws and people with whom I don’t agree. But even my entrapment is just a view from one lens, which by turning I set myself free again. Perhaps this was the answer I actually feared. Freedom is the ultimate responsibility, for with it there is no one to blame, fear, or obey. Yet I can think of no better definition of adulthood than this, and who better to help me grow up than a child?
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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.