A Year of Forgiveness

It happened almost a year ago. I had finally gathered the courage to talk to my older brother about my realization that I might have Asperger’s Syndrome. After some initial awkwardness, he almost took it as a relief, as one of those “finally we deal with the pink elephant in the room” moments. I almost hoped for a little, “Oh, no you’re not, because you are like so and so…” As with many others I had approached before him, it seemed like it was more of a connecting-the-dots kind of moment for him. Usually I was the one connecting the dots. But not in this case. Being 8 years my senior, he had a vantage view of my early years, but I had actually avoided discussing the subject with him, since we had had a difficult relationship in the past, with rather strange dynamics that I don’t fully understand to this day. And of all days, I had ended up choosing the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, to finally open the dialogue about my process with him. I’m sure it was hard for him, too, at some level. It was incredibly hard for me. I grew up as the middle child, with two brothers, each separated by a wide gap in years. They were both kind of hyperactive, ‘specially the younger one. The older one was a jock, complete with sports scholarships in college. And both were major social butterflies. And that’s how I stuck out the most. I was the awkward nerd stuck right between these two suave, popular, life-of-the-party kind of guys. But it had felt to me that that was too much of an issue for my older brother.

It’s not that I thought he didn’t care about me, or didn’t love me. In all fairness, I do remember occasions in which he really was a supportive big brother. And as adults we have had opportunities over the years to support each other. But far too many times it seemed to me that maybe he hated me a little, too, and was embarrassed by me. Even these days, he would tease me with the jingle from that old cartoon “Big World of Little Adam” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_World_of_Little_Adam) It’s true that trying to make me catch a ball or hit a tennis ball properly was not likely to be successful, and injury to self (and damage to equipment) was likely. But was that so terrible? Not in a million years would I be able to say this to his face; I would fall apart before getting started. And fall apart I did, not during our conversation over the phone, but during the service at the synagogue that night. And to think I was so proud about having kept it together during that conversation, all things considered. I was just “doing my thing”, following the service, and out of nowhere came a mental image of myself in the middle of the basketball court back at our old neighborhood, back when I was 5 to 11 years old. The same one that, along with the tennis courts next to it, was second home to my brother back then. And suddenly I am there, alone in the middle of that empty court. Alone and confused, feeling rejected without knowing why or what to do to make it better. Feelings that had become loyal companions throughout my life, come forward, pumped up to the max. And pain, excruciating pain that almost seems to hurt in the flesh like a hole in my chest. The tears flow completely out of control. I fight to come back, but keep finding myself back in that basketball court, reliving that; call it a vision, a memory, or a lucid dream, I don’t know.

I do know that it became a catalyst for acknowledging a lot of feelings and beliefs I was struggling with. Guilt for “passing along” the legacy of autism to my daughter. Anger for all the rejections and harsh judgments against me. Anger towards myself for not been able to make it better and avoid hurting other people, even if unintentionally. Hopelessness at the fact that as much as I can “pass” as neurotypical, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Embarrassed and ashamed that I used to say that I learned to be a father by not following my father’s example, to not be like him, when we are more alike than I ever imagined. Grateful that we were able to mend our relationship before it was too late, and that in in so doing, he gave me a gift of hope and forgiveness. I hope to internalize that gift, as I pray for forgiveness, to be able to forgive others and forgive myself by accepting the bewildering adventure that is Being Me. It was going to be a rough ride this coming year, to be sure, but surely worth it. I felt drained and exhausted by the end of the service, and more than a bit embarrassed of that tearfest I had just had, so when the guy next to me asked if I was staying for the lecture, I quickly answered, with a near pitch perfect line from Star Trek, “I am emotionally compromised.” Mr. Spock was back in control.

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