I started a WIP (work-in-progress for all those non-writer folk) a few days ago that pulled me into a world I never expected. I'm a pantser, which means I start a novel with the most basic idea, and I try to make it work. This particular idea pulled me in two direction. The first was horses (which I won't discuss), and the second was autism (which I will discuss on a broader spectrum). Now, watching Hidalgo is about as close as I have ever come to a horse. And I know a famous actor (Toni Braxton?) has an autistic kid. All in all, I was pretty ignorant on both fronts.
So, I did what any sane writer would do to educate themselves...I went on Youtube. And I found this video...
This video kindled one of my saddest memories; one that I've never spoken about...until today.
I was ten, and there was a kid named Timothy that my class had lunch with everyday. Now, Timothy didn't have autism, but he did have some form of cognitive disability. I would take advantage of him at lunch. If we were having something particularly delicious at lunch one day, I would ask him for it. He would respond with one simple request: Will you be my friend? I would always say 'of course' and get what I wanted. But I was never REALLY his friend. I wouldn't so much as glance his way until the next time I wanted something.
To this day, I can hear him asking for me to be his friend. I can see his face, and the hope burning in his eyes. I wish I had been a better, stronger person back then. I wish I stood up to the other kids taking advantage of him. Most of all, I wish I had been a true friend.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is this: Whether it's autism, Tourette syndrome, Down syndrome, or no syndrome at all, we need to be more understanding, more patient. It's so easy to pass judgment on someone we don't know or don't understand. So often we hear of kids getting bullied in school because they think differently, act differently, or love differently. Those same kids go on to commit suicide. My deepest fear is that Timothy is one of those kids. Nothing has led me to believe he has harmed himself, but the question has always lingered...what if?
I remember growing up. I got picked on a lot. I grew to be so self-conscious that it followed me into adulthood. I used to hide behind a sweater and baggy pants, thinking that the less people saw of me the safer I'd be. It wasn't until I turned 18 that I shed that jacket. Five years after that was the first time I wore shorts in as long as I can remember.
The common saying is 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.' That couldn't be more untrue. Words cut deeper than sticks and stones. They tear at self-esteem and self-respect, leaving only doubt and sadness in their wake.
Have any of you judge unfairly or unnecessarily? Send out your apologies in the comments below.
To Timothy: I'm sorry I wasn't a better friend to you, but know that you have changed my life for the better. I wish every day that I can take back those days in grade school, but I can't. What I can do, however, is be a better person going forward. Thank you for teaching me a valuable less, and for making me a better person.
Your friend. Your true friend,