My seven-year old autistic son has school sores on his nostril and upper lip. (This is not a nice way to start a post, but stick with me.) The doctor has prescribed him antibiotics and a regime of soaking the skin with a warm flannel. While helping him to apply the flannel to his angry-looking skin, I absent-mindedly said “you poor thing.” He compassionately returned my loving concern, by stating “you have to wear glasses to see, you poor thing!”
I had a rush of rather conflicting and confronting emotions. He sees me having to wear glasses everyday and thinks that must be annoying or hard, but I don’t think it’s so bad because I have got used to it and have adjusted my life to make it work. I don’t see myself as deserving of pity, and I don’t feel some pressing need to go and get contacts or eye surgery so I can look like and be like everyone else, even though it would make everyday life a lot easier.
His pity was misplaced, I thought, I wanted him to know that I didn’t need pity but to thank him for his concern anyway; I always encourage his sympathy and empathy and ability to consider others’ experiences and point of view.
Alongside all that sweep of emotions and thoughts, there sat a sort of uncomfortable self-righteousness too, that I was utterly surprised to feel in myself: A sense that his pity for my near-sightedness was some sort of claim about how I should be ashamed or feel inferior or wrong, because of how I was different from him; because of how he had something I didn’t that I should want.
And then, like some cruel self-inflicted twist, I actually did start to feel sorry for myself, because my eye-sight is less than perfect. And a heightened awareness over the past 24 hours, of everyone else who does and doesn’t have glasses, like it’s the great definer of humanity around me for a while.
All because a seven-year old boy reflected on my face whilst I cleaned his sores.
He helped me to see the truths in my reactions, and what they say about his own challenges.
Do you see?