Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sisters

I'm going to return to the theme of my conversion, and my meditation on the people who played a part in it.
My father I already dealt with, albeit obliquely, in part I. I want to devote this meditation to my sisters, as a group. Kristen I will deal with separately, tomorrow or the next time that I'm able to write.
I had five sisters: Laura, Jamie, Kristen, Alicia, Brianna. All are younger than me. Laura is married, Jamie is the Executive Director of an NGO out in Africa, Alicia is studying to be a midwife and Brianna is just now going into University. Kristen was killed in a car accident several years back, which is why she is going to get her own, special, separate blog entry.
At the time when I was I still an atheist, most of my sisters were too young to enter into any serious philosophical disagreement with me. Laura was old enough, and she was Christian (non-denominational with strong evangelical tendencies), Jamie was old enough and she, like me, had fallen away from Christianity. The others were small.
Laura and I used to argue about God, and morality, and so forth. She once quipped that although she could never beat me in an argument, this didn't especially perturb me: she would just wait a couple of months and then I would give her the counter-arguments to whatever I had been preaching the last time we argued. She did, however, have the honour of being the first to show me the difference between homophobia and Christian orthodoxy. I had recently come out of the closet, and inevitably, some time having passed, I prodded Laura to see what she had to say about the matter. She said something to the effect of, "I think that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, but I don't think that should change my relationship with you." Now I had always been told that this was essentially unacceptable, that not to accept a gay person's gayness was not to accept the person, that it "is who I am" and if you don't affirm it, you don't love me. The problem was that I was not stupid, and although I'd always been inclined to toe the party line on this point, now that I was faced with this allegedly homophobic "hate the sin/love the sinner" (or, perhaps more accurately, "believe that the sin is a sin/love the sinner") position, I found that I couldn't offer any sort of emotional, or rational objection to it. If her religion said that my sexuality was sinful, then how on earth could I say that she had to change her religion or she didn't love me? It was just such a monumentally obvious hypocrisy: she wasn't saying that I had to change my beliefs and lifestyle if I really loved her, how could I demand the reverse? So that particular bit of liberal cultural detritus went out the window with Laura. She was Christian, she believed in Christianity, she loved me, we were sisters. I felt I was mature enough that I could handle her polite, charitable, unforceful, yet clear disagreement with my sexuality.
The others have been a part of my life in more ways than I could possibly name. Jamie is always there to pull me back from the edge of narrow-bandwidth Christian Conservativism, to make sure that I don't wander off into the delightful, but insular world of Chestertonians in plaid jumpers. She has always helped me to see the beauty in the modern world, and the honour and dignity in the struggle of humanity to stay human in the midst of the Culture of Death. In terms of writing my book, I had her in mind a lot of the time. I kept thinking, "how can I say this? If I were writing this as a personal letter to Jamie, what would I put in?" It helped, I think, to keep me from wandering off too much into vain and contemptuous rants, or from jumping to uncharitable conclusions, because Jamie really does represent the other side of the debate at its absolute best: she is a chaste woman, a believing Christian (a recent development, but it was always sure to happen sooner or later), and a deeply compassionate person. Her support for homosexuality is not superficial or ill-informed; she has worked in AIDS hospice and has had a number of exceedingly close relationships with gay men. Anything that I couldn't say about Jamie, I could not say about people who support homosexuality in general, because she would be the disproof.
Alicia and Brianna are my little sisters. This is not to belittle their part in my lives, but it means that they were not so much involved during the period before my conversion. What I can say of all of my sisters is that having so many of them, and having had, at every stage of my life, the experience of being in a large family, or being loved by people who were at the same time so similar and yet so different from me, has completely shaped my personality and my beliefs. It was because of them that I knew, as soon as I had my first child, that I was going to have to have more. Because the relationship that I've had with sisters is one of the great treasures of my life, it is something which no amount of extra baubles or new clothes could possibly have compared with. I have heard of children who have been asked "Would you rather have a new baby, or a trip to DisneyLand in the fall?" (What parent involves their kids in a decision to abort, I don't know. Creepy.) I can tell you, I've had sisters, and I've been to DisneyLand. Family is a joy that continues throughout life, and which is utterly irreplaceable. DisneyLand is an overcrowded theme park, and ultimately neither life-shaping, magical, or unforgetable. So I'll take the new baby over the new car, the new hedge, the new TV, and the family vacation. It's the better deal, every time. I know. My sisters showed me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

on Autism

Okay, I've been away for a while. I have, as my spiritual director often says, all the good excuses. In this case the good excuses are that my two-year old was just diagnosed with autism, and that I am a total Luddite and haven't been able to figure out how log into my blog (my husband logs in for me, so if I sit down at the computer, and I'm not already logged in, and he is not around to do it for me, then I can't blog. He's taught me how to do it several times, but so far it's not sticking.) Obviously the former is the more interesting of the two, so I'm going to blog briefly about that, and then I'll try to get back on track with the conversion/reflection on how I came to be where I am.
A diagnosis of autism sounds like something terrible. The general picture is of a totally withdrawn child, rocking to himself, occasionally uttering pitiable sounds, who will one day grow up into a weird, silent adult who can recite the phone book and do jigsaw puzzles with amazing alacrity. Now I'm not going to deny that this, or something like this, is part of the reality for some people with autism, but the fact is that autism (or, rather, the autism spectrum conditions) extend to cover a lot of people who are much "higher functioning" than the child in that picture. (I actually dislike the turn "high functioning," just like I dislike the term "developing world," and the term "persons of aboriginal descent" because it falls into that category of weird terms that are going out of their way to be political correct -- to such a degree that they necessarily embody a wealth of self-important condescension. However, it is, to the best of my knowledge, the only term going, and coining an even more self-important neologism so that I can be better than the self-important politically-correct faction would only compound the problem...) So, my little Ulysses is two, and he has a number of strange repetitive behaviours, and he is very ritualistic (we went to the forest to go hiking; it was his second time out -- the first time he was very upset about being there and it took him a long time to get his bearings because it was a new situation. This time, it was familiar, so it was okay. But when we got to the washrooms, and I walked past them, he got confused and he kept trying to pull me back -- he wouldn't go the rest of the way down the path. Until we had gone into the washrooms, he wouldn't go on, because the first time that we came we went into the washrooms, so that's part of the routine. After we went into the washrooms, he followed me down to the river and threw stones in, no problem.) Also, he does not talk. Occasionally, single words, like this morning he pressed my nose and said "beep," and every so often he points to his little sister and says "baby," but he's not so much one for verbalization. He's a funny little guy, but I can't really fall in step with all of the mothers who feel that they have "lost" their child when they get an autism diagnosis. I can understand why they feel that way -- what is lost is the desire to have a particular kind of child, and the dream that one's own particular son or daughter will turn out to be everything that one has hoped for. It is difficult, and I imagine that it is much more difficult for people who intend only to have one or two children (especially if the vasectomy has already been plied by the time that the diagnosis is made.) For me, well, I'm not going for one perfect little girl and one perfect little boy. I can afford to broaden the field and have one perfect little Valkyrie, and one perfect little Princess, and one perfect little Magus, and one perfect little autistic boy, and so on. (I can't give Barbara an archetype yet, because she's only two months.) It's not just that having five children means that I can spread out all my hopes and dreams for my kids across the five of them, it's that seeing how different they all are, and how unique and unrepeatable, makes me realize how silly and shallow all of my hopes and dreams were in the first place. It makes me realize that God has a character concept for each of these little people, and that His ideas are much better than mine would have been. So I'm not inclined to go about grooming them into my ideal. Better to try to figure out what God intended with this particular person, and then help that to emerge and take shape. Education and formation instead of programming.
So Ulysses is not going to be a "normal" little boy. Now I just have to go about figuring out which beautiful variation of the human theme God intends to play through this particular instrument.