I had lunch recently with my friend Andy Morrison. Andy is in his early 40s and has Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s falls within the autism spectrum of developmental disorders. The condition involves the development of basic skills such as communication and socialization. In people with Asperger’s these skills are delayed and complex in their functions. People with Asperger’s may display eccentric behavior, a preoccupation with specific subjects or rituals, a limited range of interests, and most noticeably problems with social skills.
Andy struggles with all of these difficulties. But one major difference is his vast intelligence. He is a voracious reader with a photographic memory. He fully understands language, has a phenomenal vocabulary, and an encyclopedic mind. I learn from him every time we meet.
But his inability to naturally interact with others often trips him up and keeps him frustrated. It is simply a part of the Asperger’s and he struggles against it as best he can.
When we were at lunch I thought about his growing up years. I have met his parents, who are lovely people. His mother has told me many times about the enormous hardships Andy had growing up. Neither he nor his parents knew he had Asperger’s Syndrome. He grew up a stranger to himself and to others. He knew he did not fit in but he didn’t know why. He’s a big man, 6’2” and 250 pounds. He was always big and so when kids picked on him he was afraid of retaliating because he didn’t want to hurt anyone. Yet, kids were relentless and merciless in their teasing, bullying, and abuse.
I thought of all of that as we chatted at lunch. Here was this gentle giant, this sweet man with a prodigious mind and a beautiful heart, talking masterfully about physics and economics, but also during our visit talking about his loneliness, his longing for friends, how nice it would be to have a companion.
There are people around us who have such profound needs we know nothing about. We notice them as strange or odd or messed up in some vague way. But in our day we have learned to ignore them or reject them. We are not encouraged to seek out these fellow humans, neighbors, co-workers and friend them. Our society has over the past couple of decades significantly turned its back on the different, on those hurting, on people needing a job, a better wage, a nicer place to live, on people broken by addiction, or struggling with a developmental disorder.
The snubbing of minorities today, or worse, just outright bullying, tormenting and dismissing gays, blacks, Hispanics, and women is outrageous conduct that should be called out and condemned by not only our national leaders but by all of us who still have a beating heart and a thinking mind.
Why would any of us want to follow people who openly work to hold others down, to prevent certain people from reaching their highest potential, who belittle people, who incite violence against others, who fail in the fundamental human response of compassion and kindness?
There is no strength found in hurting others, especially the vulnerable. Disrespecting and abusing—physically, verbally, psychologically or otherwise—human life is not a sign of strength. It is the most obvious form of weakness, cowardice, cringing fear, and evil imaginable. If you’re looking for developmental disorders in someone, there they are.
The ancient mystics wrote, “Beneath these earth suits that we wear, we are one.”
Why is it so difficult to see this? If only we could see it, perhaps we would learn to treat each other more gently; we would stop comparing, stop judging, stop being so condescending, stop humiliating and mistreating one another.
When lunch ended with Andy he said, “Let’s do this again soon, Tim.” I said, “We will brother. I look forward to it.” And then we hugged. Which is not easy for Andy to do. But he has learned when he’s with me, he always gets a hug.
© 2015 Timothy Moody