Yesterday I had lunch with the inspirational and brilliant James Cone, also known as the “father” of black theology, and a professor at Union Theological Seminary. For those of you who aren’t familiar with James and his work, he is the man who wrote the powerful book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Sometimes in life you meet people, people who are special, for whatever reason, they reach us in ways that most people do not. James is one of those people in my life.
Over lunch, as we got on the topic of various movements: the civil rights movement, the disabilities movement, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) movement, he said, “You cannot let your circumstances define you, who you are, your race, your gender or what others say about you.” And I thought about Emma and how autism is perceived by many as a tragedy. I thought about how I don’t ever want her to define herself by the way some may see her. I thought about how that perception does damage to so many, how the way we perceive people is how we justify our treatment of them, how we treat them differently without even realizing it. I thought about how I want to protect Emma from that.
I thought about the neurodiversity movement and how so many Autists are speaking out, asking for acceptance, asking for respect, asking to just be heard. I thought about all those Autists who cannot speak, who are non-verbal and cannot communicate their thoughts, ideas and opinions at all. I thought of those who are called “severely Autistic” and I thought of those who are, at this moment, in institutions or group homes run by people who may not understand them. People who will use their ideas and perceptions of who they think they are to treat them in ways that will hurt them. Who fights for them? Who ensures their rights are respected and considered? As I thought about all of this, I felt myself falling into despair. And then James reached over and took my hand. He said, “You have to see the horror, but not be defeated by it.”
I thought about all the stories I’ve read of Autistics who have been abused, often by their own family members, caregivers, or in homes where they were placed. The people who cannot fight back because they do not have words. The people who cannot fight back because even by communicating through other devices they are viewed as less than and so their words are disregarded. I thought of those who have risen up and despite their challenges are blogging about their experiences. I thought of the unimaginable horrors they have endured. “You have to see the horror, but not be defeated by it.”
Those people have lived the horror, the rest of us are only witnesses to and only if we choose to be. And that is a critical and striking difference. We have a choice. We can turn away if we choose. We do not have to read their stories. We do not have their memories etched into our brains, their experiences scarring our bodies. We will not get triggered by those who behave in similar ways to the perpetrators of their abuse. “You have to see the horror, but not be defeated by it.”
One blog I read not long ago, described in graphic, terrifying detail the abuse she was subjected to at the hands of her stepfather, mother, siblings and cousins. As I read her post, I thought, this isn’t abuse, this is torture. I felt nauseous reading her blog. When I wanted to click the little red button on the top left corner of the page to delete it forever, I had to remind myself that this is her life, the least I could do was read what she’d written. How do you take what you’ve read and continue living your life as you had been, before you knew what you now know?
“You have to see the horror, but not be defeated by it.”
And I know. I know I have to keep writing about all of this. I have to keep reading the stories, they aren’t going to disappear just because I’ve made the choice not to read them.
“Strive toward an ideal,” James said at one point. He paused and then he said, “Write where the hurt is most.”
And so I will. I will try. It’s the least I can do.
Emma in one of her “pretty summer dresses.”
Read My Fear Toolkit published in the Huffington Post
“Write where the hurt is most.”
Wow, you are so right/write!
For the past six months I have read over 2,000 pages of civil rights history. Yesterday I finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin and was once again in awe of what people have endured and overcome. Harriet Beecher Stow, and her book, were a vital part of ending a system of horror by doing just as you said, she wrote about it. And in doing so she created awareness and was a part of its eventual demise.
Keep writing girl friend, and so will I!
We will soldier on!
Strength in numbers, right? It’s good to soldier on shoulder to shoulder with you, Charlotte and so many other like minded people. If you haven’t read James’ book – The Cross and the Lynching Tree – I highly recommend it. It’s beautiful and difficult, angry and powerful. At one point after this last book of his was published, I asked him, how do you deal with all the anger? And he said, “You find the love.”
Awesome reply! What a good friend and yes, I would love to read his book as it is very relevant to my current “studies.” Also, there was a book you mentioned in a post from several months ago, you referred to it as a game changer in the autism world, I want to read that too, but I can’t recall the title now. Do you know of which I speak? If not, I will scan through your old posts and find it. Since I will be making an amazon order, might as well include all the Ariane recommendations. 🙂
What a beautiful pic and a beautifully written entry. You amaze me with how welll you can express yourself in the written form! You keep writting and I will keep reading and learning!! It’s wonderful!!!
Oh Becky, that is so nice of you to say.
Could it have been Autism and Representation edited by Mark Osteen. I bought it for my ipad. That book was the beginning of my “shift” in perspective!
That didn’t sound familiar so I looked through posts and found it, Henry Markham, Intense World Theory.
So many books… so little time…
Oh I looooove Markram. But it’s not a book, it’s a quick read, an interview on the blog Wrong Planet, I think I provided the links, and a TED talk that’s pretty mind blowing. I want to know what you think.
Hello 🙂 What a beautifully written piece, and what a stunningly true statement on the part of Dr. Cone. I have been reading for a while now, as I am a student in school psychology and am most looking forward to being a STRONG advocate for these kiddos. I enjoy reading family perspectives on a variety of disabilities to add to my own experience and I thank you for sharing your eloquent thoughts on so many topics, but especially the neurodiversity movement. I was visiting NYC this weekend and smiled with thoughts of your sweet girl when the “yellow R train” pulled up 🙂
Oh I love that you thought of Emma when you saw the R train! Good luck with your studies.
Very powerful — very well written. Thanks to you and to James — both of those phrases are so useful — true mantras.
Hi openeyesguy, always love hearing from you! XX