Zoe lost a tooth yesterday. She has been fired up all week to see how much the tooth fairy would bring. This is her first molar to go and she is certain that larger teeth should win larger cash awards. I guess she had a moment of generosity and decided that her tooth might be used for a greater good. As we were putting her to bed, she showed us the note that she wrote to go under her pillow along with the tooth. Here is what it says (verbatim, I did not change or correct any part of this):
Dear: Tooth Fairy
I’ve heard that you could grant a wish instead of money but you can only do it once and then you can only give me money but if you can’t it’s ok. But, if you can than my wish is that my brother Gray who has autism gets a cure for it. I would like the cure for him tomorrow morning or at latest next Monday. But again, if you can’t grant my wish it is ok. but my friend did say she wished for a hamster and her wish came true but maybe she is lieing. I don’t know because she has a different tooth fairy.
P.S. If you have your magic fairy dust please leave some on the bed or ground.
Then, she drew two boxes and asked the tooth fairy to leave her name and a drawing of what she looks like.
Gray may not wake up cured this morning, but he will wake up in a home with a family who loves him dearly…even if it means giving up our tooth fairy money.
I have become a TED talk junkie. In the evenings, when I take Hope for her walk, I have started taking headphones and listening to TED talks. They are an excellent way to expand your mind in various subjects: medicine, psychology, culture, food and countless other topics. I try to pick a variety, but, I must admit, I am drawn to the stories of people who overcome adversity. I guess I see myself as one of those people and I am looking to connect. I made one such connection when I listened to the talk given by Joshua Prager earlier this month. I was drawn to the topic of “In search of the man who broke my neck” because I have spent so much of my life working with people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. I feel connected to them because I know that the general public is very uncomfortable around people in wheelchairs and I am not. I also feel a kinship because I know what it is like to struggle with everyday activities that typical people take for granted.
As I listened to Joshua’s TED talk, his message reverberated through me in a way that I can only describe as “like-mindedness.”
Like Joshua, I sometimes divide my life. I divide it as BA (before autism) and AA (after autism). It doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to, but there are times when I will look at pictures or tell stories from when we lived in our other house and I will think about what a different person I was then. I think about how different my expectations of life were and the silly things I thought were stressful. Yes, I was still a person who advocated for others with disabilities, but they were not my own or my family’s.
In graduate school, learning about all of the maladies that can affect humankind was a little scary. Each time we learned of a new disease or condition, someone in our class would feel sure that they had it. Each time we learned about a childhood disorder, we feared that we would have children with those problems. I remember telling my roommate that it almost seemed like we were being prepared: who better to deal with these challenges than someone who had been trained to understand them so well? What I have learned is that, when your worst fear comes true, you can still live through it and even thrive…if you have the right attitude.
I would like to give a few quotes from Joshua’s talk that spoke to me and made me consider my life:
-I then began to wonder, as I had many times before, how my life would have been different if this man had not injured me…had my genes been fed a different helping of experience. Who was I? Was I who I had been before the crash, before this road divided my life like the spine of an open book? Was I what had been done to me? Were all of us the results of things done to us, done for us? …the infidelity of a parent or spouse, money inherited…Were we, instead, our bodies? Their inborn endowments and deficits? It seemed that we could be nothing more than genes and experience, but how to tease out the one from the other? As Yates put that same universal question, “Oh body sways to music! Oh brightening glance! How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
-People are wrong to marvel at those like me who smile as we limp. People don’t know that they have lived through worse. That problems of the heart hit with a force greater than a runaway truck. That problems of the mind are greater still, more injurious than a hundred broken necks. I wished to tell him that what makes most of us who we are most of all, is not our minds and not our bodies and not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. This, wrote the psychiatrist, Victor Frankel, is the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. I wished to tell him that not only paralyzers and paralyzees must evolve– reconcile to reality–but we all must: the aging and the anxious and the divorced and the balding and the bankrupt and everyone. I wished to tell him, that one does not have to say that a bad thing is good. That a crash is from G-d and so a crash is good; a broken neck is good. One can say that a bad thing sucks, but that this natural world still has many glories. I wished to tell him that, in the end, our mandate is clear: We have to rise above bad fortune. We have to be in the good and enjoy the good: study and work and adventure and friendship (oh, friendship!) and community and love. But most of all, I wish to tell him what Herman Melville wrote: “That truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold. For there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Yes. Contrast. If you are mindful of what you do not have, you may be truly mindful of what you do have. And if the gods are kind, you may truly enjoy what you have. That is the one singular gift you may receive if you suffer in any existential way. You know death, and so may wake each morning pulsing with ready life. Some part of you is cold and so some other part of you may truly enjoy what it is to be warm.”
I agree with Joshua’s interpretation of our mandate. Almost everyone goes through something difficult in their lives. Almost everyone finds themselves in a situation at some point that brings them to their knees. The secret to happiness is not in the luck of the draw. I believe that happiness is a choice. Those of us who have it a little rougher just have the gift of contrast.