Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Evening with Jean

Jean R. is my neighbour. She was born on November 30th, and I will not tell you the year, because Jean would not want you to know that she started her tenth decade of life. She is an extraordinary lady. And when I say lady, I mean lady in the real sense of that word. She is always impeccably dressed, she is always polite and she has perfect manners. She is up to date and uses laptop to send e mails, you believe it or not. So I was not surprised when she invited us for afternoon cocktails, she said: "Come over for cocktails tomorrow, whenever you normally have cocktails, it's alright.", she said gingerly. Well, I had to ask when, because we normally do not have cocktails.

Next day, before we went there, I made sure that I was dressed lady like. I even put my black beads necklace that I rarely wear because I think it looks too formal. I made sure that we both look like people who will have cocktails with Jean R. Since I always bring her some food, whenever I bake something nice, or last time when we went strawberry picking, I gave her some nice fresh strawberries, I decided this time to give her a book. I picked "Bridges of Madison County" thinking that kind of book will bring her spirits up. As if she needs that. If you will ever meet Jean, the first thing that you will notice that her spirits are always high. Even when she comes back from the nursing home where her husband lives now. She calls him "roaring lion" because he hates that he is there, but she cannot take care of him. Sadly he has Alzheimer's and needs around the clock care. Jean will tell you that Doug is British Army Major. She was so sweet one time when she visited with us and I shared my son's story about Canadian soldier he wrote as his Remembrance Day project. She told to my son that she was proud of him for what he had written and added that her praise had more value because she was the wife of British Army Major.

That afternoon we had a usual cup of stories with Jean: about her daughter, grandson, and of course "roaring lion". She was dressed in pale green pant suit with darker green beads necklace. She always wears one of those little angel pins. We sat with her for more than three hours.

She offered very nicely arranged platter of shrimp, little sandwiches decorated with her own herbs that she grows on her balcony, veggies and dip, three different kind of cheese and crackers.

We were sipping Scotch, hers with little bit of water and ours on ice. It was a lovely evening. We talked about Prince Edward Island, about how her ancestors were among "fathers of confederation" in that famous conference that was a birthplace of Canada. Her eyes lit up when she was talking about her father, who was very respected Judge in New Brunswick. She told us how shocked she was when she went to renew her passport and she was told that she needed "an interview". She could not believe that the "fourth generation" Canadian needs to prove that they are citizens! Well, bureaucracy is ignorant anywhere in the world, but when the ignorance meets such a lady, it makes you wonder what that person behind Service Canada counter was thinking.

Jean calls me "her friend". Although she could be my grandmother, when I talk to her I feel that there is no age barrier, no cultural barrier, no language barrier. So I concluded that spirited people are just the same everywhere. I want to believe that Jean and I are two of them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Misunderstood, eccentric, or something else...

I personally know someone who, most of the time, feels like an outsider. He is my son and my desire to untangle everyday communication for him, and help him to "get it", is bigger than anything you can imagine. However, even if you have me on one side, who knows quite a bit about the human communication, and my son, who is willing to learn, the task is almost impossible to accomplish. Why is it so? Why is he misunderstood? In my efforts to solve this mystery, I decided to interview my son and ask him some questions about how he feels when there is a breakdown in the communication. Well, it is not surprising that he feels ANGRY. The feeling of anger for him also means that he feels depressed ( read this as hopeless that things will ever change or improve), but he also feels hatred and some disturbing thoughts are coming to his mind. This is how he feels when he cannot express himself in appropriate and socially acceptable way. Why is it so? He says he knows that at times he talks a lot ( but don't we all sometimes do that?), speaks loudly ( again, don't we all sometimes raise our voices?) and his reactions are strong.

But this does not explain why and how he appears to other people as "different". Is it something in the way he says words? Is it something in his body language? What kind of detectors the neurotypical population has so that they can conclude in a matter of seconds that a person is DIFFERENT? And start treating that person differently, and distance oneself from that person immediately, and team up against that person in matter of minutes from the start of the conversation. My son's appearance in any group of people will ensure that in no time they will team up against him, and he will be either ridiculed or teased or just simply ignored (with rolling eyes). Sometimes those who are little bit more polite will just try to avoid that situation all together and find an excuse why they cannot come to his birthday party ( such as, they already have something planned, although they knew about the party well in advance, or they would suddenly fall sick or something else...). Now, it makes me wonder how come 99 percent of people cannot see the beautiful person that he is? How come our brains are not equipped to see the person behind that first appearance that is so damaging to my son. How come people are so judgmental about person's abilities and potential from just looking at the person for 2 seconds and talking to the person for 3 seconds?

In the light of may daily endeavors to help my son communicate better, I developed a keen eye for other people that may suffer from similar communication difficulty as him. Recently I noticed something in Michael Jackson's behaviour that to me was so familiar: some kind of naivety, at times very literal response to complex issues, inability to react in real time to verbal challenges, obsession with specific topics and feeling comfortable when the conversation is concentrated around that topic, and so on. Some will call it "tragedy of genius". Maybe that is what it is. Some people with communication disorders, such as autism and Asperger's are genius and being that can also be their demise. They cannot really take care of themselves, and they are surrounded with "friends". As long as there is money, there will be "friends". Not true friends, who will not feed on that person's money, fame or anything else they find interesting in the person. True friends will accept the person for who the person is, and break heartbreaking circle of loneliness and isolation. Just like my son, I feel that MJ, and many others who are different than neurotypical average Joe, are suffering immensely, not because they feel they are different, but because they are treated differently. And yes, of course, taken advantage of. We need to put stop to this.

And before I help my son learn how to communicate so that he will not tick off neurotypical people with his oddities, before that, I believe that this world will have to recognize those leeches who feed themselves with thinking that they are better than someone who is DIFFERENT. I, personally, chose the life of isolation and loneliness, just to be on the side of those who are so much better than us, but those who we decided are weird, odd, eccentric, or just simply slow and stupid.