Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Asperger's, Compassion, and Pain

I'm waiting at the John Wayne airport. So many people. So many stories.  
I'm reading "Look Me In The Eye," a memoir by John Elder Robinson, a man with Asperger's syndrome.  My grandson apparently has Aspergers.  My daughter read it and said it helped her understand better what may be going on in her son's head.  
David is a great kid. We spent the day at Knott's Berry Farm (amusement park) riding roller coasters together. He gets lost in his own head a little bit sometimes and is socially awkward--but it seems to me that he is no stranger than I was as a kid.  I was often lost in my own reality.  It took lot's of life experience (pain and disappointment) to finally figure out what I was expected to do and say--and not do and not say. I still mostly feel like I'm faking it.  
However, unlike people with Asperger's, I have never been very interested in machines or math or music. Maybe I never got much of a chance. My unique weirdness--at least I was continually told it was weird and believed it was weird--was that I was emotionally sensitive. I cry embarrassingly easily.  
This sensitivity got me in lots of trouble with my military dad. The memory of his anger with me for crying through Lassie Come Home has never left me. Still today, I feel other people's pain so easily. When I'm hearing confession, I sometimes cry more than the one confessing.  
This emotional sensitivity has also gotten me in lots of trouble as an adult. It seems that I am cursed always to see and sympathize with all sides of an issue. On the one hand, I recognize that gay marriage is not the right way for society to help those who experience homosexual thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, I understand how those who feel this way would interpret gay marriage as a civil rights issue. I often find myself an outcast in all camps: like a Christian Palestinian, hated by Israel because I am an Arab, and hated by many Arabs because I am a Christian. I'm too liberal to be a conservative and too conservative to be a liberal. I identify with fundamentalists and unbelievers. The pain of one feels just like the pain of the other. I wonder if the angels can tell the difference between the tears of a lost and confused homosexual atheist and the tears of a lost and confused heterosexual Orthodox Christian? God knows. I can't seem to tell the difference.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am a devout Orthodox Christian. I believe all that the Church teaches. My problem is compassion--suffering-with. How am I, how are we, called to suffer with the world?  How do I, how do we, speak the truth with a heart full of co-suffering pain?  
As usual, I have no answers. I'm pretty sure that politics (left or right or middle) is not the answer. I'm also pretty sure that "it doesn't really matter" is not a good way to deal with sin. It does really matter, both in this life and the Life to come. Ancient wisdom became ancient wisdom because, well, it has proven to be wise for a long time. At the same time, I am pretty sure that being merely right is not the answer. The Pharisees were right.  Being right gives you just enough confidence to crucify Christ--and feel good about it.       
So pray for me. Pray for everyone. Christ is the answer. Pray that we can truly be the Body of Christ, that we can truly be an answer to those who hurt around us.


Mary said...

Hi Father Michael, I identify with your statement This emotional sensitivity has also gotten me in lots of trouble as an adult. It seems that I am cursed always to see and sympathize with all sides of an issue. Today I had a first experience at work, they had me sit and stay with the loss prevention officer and a woman who was caught stealing. Ive seen them before of course, but never had to sit through the entire thing. I sat there watching both of them and asked God, what can I do but pray? I felt sad, considering the woman and whatever situation she may be in, and the officer who is doing his job, and rightly so. More of the story I heard made me pray Lord, have mercy. The woman had had a partner, a man she barely knew, and they both came in a stolen vehicle, but he got away. And then I consider the LP who has to deal with these sort of situations on a regular basis, with a person yelling and screaming at them. And so once again I ask Lord, have mercy.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Michael, I am so touched by your heart. And your sensitivity. Somehow I suspect that there is far more righteousness in this than the strictest ascetic who does not strive to achieve what you have just described.
BTW, I don't mean to be unsympathetic (having just praised your sensitivity) but I am not so distressed at your grandson's diagnosis of Asperger's. Many of the world's greatest scientists and scholars could be diagnosed with Asperger's. Some Priests I know who are otherwise considered models of success have Asperger's! I think it is very unfortunate that it gets lumped with autism, although I understand why. If one needs a term to label someone like this other than just "ordinary neurotic" why not say "nerd." And you know the saying, the kids we call "nerd" in High School we later call "boss" in real life!

Michelle said...

I've just typed and deleted several different responses to this. Basically, I resonate. I sure hope God "honours the intention."

Stephanie Rose said...

It's a wonderful gift to be able to see all people as fellow creatures. I'm sorry that so many consider it a curse.

Fr. Michael said...

I think "cursed" here is a metaphor for the suffering one experiences because of the gift. It's good to see others as they are.

Unknown said...

I think your sensitivity, Father, is why so many people are able to receive your counsel and leadership, and grow as a result. I know I've needed your compassion. You are a blessing.