I’m not an autism mom but that doesn’t mean I don’t get it. I get it. The world and everything in it has to be okay for all of us – the halt and the lame, as a professor of mine used to say. And I count myself in that fine company, the company of the halt and the lame, my blessed hearing disability that has me twirling in confusion at the boarding instructions, asking total strangers to mouth the words SHE CALLED GROUP THREE to me.
There’s got to be room in the world for me. And for the girl with autism on the United flight and her family and maybe the guy sitting behind them with bipolar disorder and the woman in the back with a bum bladder.
We are a bundle of our imperfections, each of us flawed, a mistake, missing a gene in our own unique way, flying in a plane somewhere. If all of us imperfect beings disembarked, the plane would fly empty, on autopilot.
My ‘situation’ as we call it, my increasing deafness, has made me fall in love with people with disabilities. I see a man in a wheelchair being rolled up to the ticket gate and I look at him as my brother. I figure, looking at him, his wife or his sister or his friend pushing him along, that I am safe as long as he is part of the landscape.
The man with cerebral palsy who is lurching, tangled, as the boarding line moves forward, I feel your brilliance and fearlessness. That you are here makes me braver. I can hide what’s wrong with me. You can’t and you march along undeterred. I endeavor to follow in your footsteps. To be undeterred from boarding. From going. From taking my place somewhere I have a right to be.
So I have gratitude to autism mom and her daughter. I don’t care if autism mom threw a fit. I don’t care if autism girl yelped and shouted. I do care that United Airlines couldn’t find a way to embrace them. It bothers me that an act of simple human kindness seemed so far out of the reach of the flight attendants and pilots. Is the distance from where they see themselves as un-flawed people so far from autism mom and daughter that they have no ability to relate, to empathize? They couldn’t possibly see themselves or their loved ones being in autism girl’s shoes?
Man, makes me grateful for the 400,000 times I listened to Joan Baez sing There But for Fortune.