Love Letters From a Nearby Pond
Notes from Inside the Aspergers Experience
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
-Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
I said to my guru the other day, “One function of my blog is to serve as a love letter to my family.”
It surprised me, to hear those words come out of my mouth, and yet I could feel the truth of them. Though we’re now mostly separated by time and distance and estrangement and distrust and unresolved conflict, I still, as best I can, in the ways I know how, feel love and gratitude and appreciation for the people and places from which I came.
We simply don’t know what to do with each other. That’s the phrase that sticks with me. There seem to be “irreconcilable differences” between us, though I have no idea if they are truly irreconcilable, or just beyond our present means. So one of the things that compels me to put fingers to keyboard is the impulse to more deeply understand those differences, and to explore them “out loud” in a way that might help.
I do it with little expectation or need. I’ve largely let go of the struggle, the need to convince and self-justify, or the hope of having had a better past. I do it because I can, and because I don’t know what will come of it, and because I think, on my deathbed, that I would regret not having done so. I do it because it’s a way I can express my love. I reveal myself as openly as I can, exposing, as Mary Oliver said, the “soft animal of my body,” listening for the wild geese, and claiming my own place “in the family of things.” If there is some unknown country to one day reach that lies beyond that which currently seems “irreconcilable,” that’s the path I have to take to find it.
The thing is, no matter the old hurts or rants or defenses or critiques I might still harbor, I remain in touch with the many gifts I received from my family of origin. And I know that, just like me, they are all good people, living from good intentions, and doing the best they can with what they have.
But in order for this to serve as a “love letter to my family,” it must first serve as a love letter to my self. And that has been the trickier part. If there are vast differences between myself and my family, they seem to constellate around me, the ugliest duckling in my family’s particular pond. And it’s very difficult for the outlier, I think, to not take on the responsibility and blame for the conflicts such differences create, and accept it all as shame.
Those are the waters through which I’ve had to swim these past fifteen years or so, pushing through strong, strange currents and encountering terrifying new flocks, ready to run or fly or bite back, if need be. I was fighting for the right simply to be myself, not fully understanding that the conflict was mostly inside my own soul, rather than between myself and others. I ducked and dodged as I made my way along this waterway of shame and self-judgment, looking for cover, strengthening my legs and wings, sharpening my bill. I could not see, through the mists, that my primary adversary looked just like me.
And then, one day, I found myself on a different pond, where swam the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. My heart soared, as she welcomed me to join her. And only very slowly did I grow brave enough to look down at the water and observe my own reflection, and see that I looked just like her, and learn that I was not alone. And very slowly did I come to know myself not as “bad,” or “wrong,” or “to blame,” but simply very different.
The simplest way to put it is this: my relationship with Sally, my work with my various gurus, and my Aspergers diagnosis have allowed me to love myself in a way that I did not before. I now understand why my feathers look different from so many of the other birds I’ve known. And, loving myself for who I am, I have a new freedom to love others for who they are. We may swim on different ponds and fly in different skies, but we can do so in peace, fondness, mutual respect, and a deep appreciation for each others gifts. And who knows… perhaps one day there’ll be a great fly-in that brings us all together again in the same pond.
I’m far from mastering the skill of allowing others to be who they are. The old habits of self-defense can still arise within me when triggered. But I train daily to lay down my old weapons. And already their allure has diminished greatly.
That, in itself, has been worth the journey. Weapons can get pretty heavy. And they really hurt when you use them against yourself.