I saw for the first time last night an episode of Parenthood, the NBC TV show about a family that includes a son with Asperger’s. The son, eight-year old Max, learns that he has Asperger’s Syndrome by overhearing his father say so. Max confronts his parents about what the term means, and they have an emotional conversation about the topic.
Two pieces of background before I say more about last night’s episode: (1) I am not good at watching TV. I may go for weeks without watching, and when I do make or have the time to sit in front of the TV, I limit most of my viewing to the Food Network and judge shows. I find it easier and more entertaining to watch people being themselves. Even when I find fictional shows that I like, for example, The Office, I do poorly at becoming a fan. I have trouble remembering the station, day and time on which the show appears. I say all of that to say that there may well be better Parenthood episodes before and after last night’s, and I will not go looking for them.
(2) Generally, I have low tolerance for weepy, whiney adults. Hubby said a few weeks ago that my “compassion bucket is empty.” I think that’s a bit harsh. However, I will acknowledge that I have been trying to better understand and practice compassion since I began studying Kadampa Buddhism in January 2009. I like to think that I have made progress. Everybody has issues, and some wallowing in one’s issues is acceptable. Wallow . . . then get up and get to work on creating the life you want. We are, after all, people, not pigs.
The Parenthood episode reminded me of two quotes from an essay by Zora Neale Hurston (one of my sheroes, a literary genius), who wrote a timeless essay, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me.” First, “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.” Max’s dad told him “you’re wired differently,” but he may as well have said, with his wet eyes and doomed voice, “you’re tragically wired.” All parents want perfect children because, let’s face it, wouldn’t life be easier if we had them? Easier perhaps in some ways, and uninteresting in many more ways. We get the children we get, and it is our job to claim them and try our best to help them be their best.
Ms. Hurston went on to say, “No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” The world is to the strong, she says. I believe that. There will be no shortage of challenges in life, and if you fit into any non-mainstream category — female, gay, disabled, Black, Muslim, etc. — the challenges become more complex. Her essay is about color, or race, but you can substitute any number of words. Who we intrinsically are does not have to be seen as a burden, at least not to self. That’s a poor start, and a poor message to give to a child. Acceptance of self and others is learned behavior, and practicing acceptance is a decision. The sooner I accept, and the less wallowing I do, the better I can focus on sharpening my tools for having a good life and helping my family to do the same.