Prior to meeting my wife, Kerri, I had limited exposure to Autism. Sure, there were students with Autism on the campus where I taught English at the time. I’d see the them in the hallway or stop by their classroom to say “hello,” but that’s about all I knew.
When Kerri and I began writing back and forth via an online dating website it was clear there was a connection between the two of us. The writing went on longer than I experienced as typical [typical: I’ll return to this word often]. Anyhow. ..I began to wonder if things would ever progress to a phone call.
“She’s hiding something. . .I know it!” I thought. Hmmm.
So, I nudged. And still she held out on giving out her phone number. “I get it,” I thought. She’s a single mom of two. . .doesn’t want to jump in to things. But there was a connection! Why the hesitation? Surely this is worth of a phone conversation. So, I twisted her arm in a virtual sense and, finally, the digits.
Several conversations later, Kerri took a significant personal risk and told me about her son with Autism. This, I later learned, went against the advice of her friends. To my own surprise I didn’t flinch. I wanted to hear about him. The connect only grew stronger and I could explain why. Little did I know I was standing a the two roads that diverged in a yellow wood.
After that conversation, I had multiple epiphanies. This was a big deal for Kerri. It’s kind of disclosure that results in a great deal of vulnerability. And it’s the kind of information would cause the recipient to bow out and move on. This is a real fear of many single parents with Autistic children…”Will the person I’ve grown to love leave?”
I’ll be honest. If I had met Kerri a few years earlier I might have been that person to take my first exit. But I was experiencing something I hadn’t in a long time. My spiritual, emotional, and mental heath had simultaneously found a calm place. The time was right for, not just any relationship, but one that would involve anything but the typical state of affairs.
I’ve learned a great deal about life in the past two years. There have been, and will continue to be, frustrations that challenge every ounce of human patience. Likewise, there are moments that reach the peak of joy. And there is literally every emotion in between. Autism, like other disabilities, brings perspective to life. There is little energy to spend on matters that are of little consequence (and those matters differ from person to person).
One of the many lessons I have learned thus far is to challenge people who say, “I couldn’t do what you do.” My response? “Yes, you can, and someday you likely will.” It might be caring for a child with a disability, a parent that develops Alzheimer’s, a sibling who suddenly needs lifelong care, or a spouse that one day needs you to feed them.
Sure, there will always be those who cut and run because they are too afraid to come out of their narcissism. For the most of us, however, love and compassion will prevail. And we will deepen our understanding what it means to be human.