My older son was born on the severe end of the autistic spectrum. I am usually saying that he is “differently abled” than most of us because I have learned to notice his extraordinary abilities and that they have proven to be consistent through his twenty and something years of life so far.
Autism is often characterized as a puzzle, in the sense of a mystery, but it is not to those who are affected by it. Not only to the individuals who may or may not be “diagnosed” with autism but also to their closest allies, siblings, teachers and caregivers (I put the word “diagnosed” in brackets because autism is certainly not a disease and the word “diagnosed” tend to imply it would be, so it is really misleading but for a better way to explain what I want to explain I will continue to use some of that annoying vocabulary and I apologize for doing so).
The real mystery is why we would be unable to understand or communicate with some people, just because we think we have a “superior” way of functioning when the reality is that we also have lots of deficiencies in the way we use our brains. We are just the dominant part of the population and we are used to communicating the way we do, we highly value speech and communication through words and elaborate expressions of our thoughts and emotions. So when someone is properly handicapped in those domains we tend to see them as disabled, the same way we value being able to hear or see or run and someone whose hearing, sight or motion is impaired is considered by the majority as disabled when in reality everyone has different abilities and ways to adapt to how we function.
I certainly want everyone to understand the subtleties that make my son as able as anyone despite his disabilities: he is not less, and he certainly is more in many domains. Those domains might not be considered as functional in today’s world but I am ready to bet that in a couple of centuries or maybe less time, given how fast things are going if only we are willing to learn and adapt, they will be essential to life and his extraordinary skills will be needed and highly sought for the majority in society!
In our morning liturgy, there are a series of blessings that we repeat every day. Let me quote some of them in one of the many possible translations:
Thankfully, we offer praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,
For bestowing the power to distinguish between day and night;
For creating us in Your image;
For giving us freedom;
For giving us the capacity to see;
I remember the first times I heard some of the readings from the High Holy Days liturgy in a prelude to the Sh’ma and couldn’t refrain myself from choking a little while reading them. I offer them here in English as they appear in The New Mahzor printed by Media Judaica, which we are not using anymore during our services and I have yet to see if this text that moves me so much is included:
Let us imagine a world without color, without regal red or leafy green, a world that bores the eye with gray.
Praise to You, Adonai, for all the colors in the rainbow, for eyes that are made for seeing, and for the beauty that “is its own excuse for being.”
Let us imagine a world without sound, a world where deathly silence covers the earth like a shroud.
Praise to You, Adonai, for words that speak to our minds, for songs that lift our spirits, and for all those souls who know how to listen.
Let us imagine a world without order, where no one can predict the length of the day or the flow of the tide. Imagine a universe where planets leave their orbits and soar like meteors through the heavens and where the law of gravity is repealed at random.
Praise to You, Adonai, for the marvelous order of nature, from stars in the sky to particles in the atom.
Let us imagine a world without love, a world in which the human spirit, incapable of caring, is locked in the prison of the self.
Praise to You, Adonai, for the capacity to feel happiness in another’s happiness and pain in another’s pain.
As the universe whispers of a oneness behind all that is, so the love in the human heart calls on people everywhere to unite in pursuit of those ideals that make us human.
As we sing of One God, we rejoice in the wonder of the universe and we pray for that day when all humanity will be one.
I will let you imagine what it has been like for someone born without some of those abilities we take for granted, ~ and could often forget to be thankful for, had our rituals not reminded us ~ to learn how to compensate to be seen as fully human and find their place among us, fully included as they should be.
This year, I have committed to a daily blog in English to participate in @imabima’s project of Elul. I will dedicate my endeavor for the רפואה שלמה complete healing of מרדכי אלעזר בן חנה מרים (Mordechai ben Chanah).